Taiwan Opposition Demands Presidential Recount

Opposition activists refused to disband protests Monday until authorities agree to recount Taiwan's weekend presidential election, won by the incumbent one day after he was slightly wounded in a shooting that critics say influenced the vote.

Governments in the region said they hoped that the political turmoil over President Chen Shui-bian's (search) narrow re-election victory Saturday would not lead to greater tension between the island and rival China.

Chen, who campaigned on a China-bashing platform, won with just 50.1 percent of the vote, compared to 49.9 percent for opposition candidate Lien Chan (search), who has pushed for a more conciliatory approach toward China. The margin was just 30,000 votes.

The opposition said voting was marred both by Friday's mysterious shooting and by voting irregularities. They say the attack unfairly earned Chen sympathy votes, and Lien raised questions about more than 330,000 ballots that allegedly were spoiled.

"The whole world is concerned over whether Taiwan has had a fair election," Lien's running-mate, James Soong (search), said early Monday while visiting opposition activists rallying near the Presidential Office to demand a recount.

Later Monday, Lien demanded that the president meet with him to discuss the fraud allegations "for the sake of stability, democracy and clean politics."

Lien already has petitioned for the election results be nullified, and it could take months for the courts to decide how to respond. Taiwan High Court chief Chang Chin-hsiung said Monday that a ruling would come within six months at the latest.

"It could come in one or two months after we finish the investigation and have debates about it," Chang said.

The election dispute cast a cloud over Taiwan's stock market, which had already stopped trading for the day on Friday when Chen was shot. The market's main index plunged 6.7 percent Monday, close to the daily limit of 7 percent.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged Chen to act with "a very great degree of moderation" in dealings with China, which wants Taiwan to rejoin the mainland.

"I think the last thing any of us want in the Asia-Pacific region is an escalation of tension between Taiwan and mainland China," Downer said.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for moves toward stability.

"It is important that the confusion there ends quickly," he said.

Adding to the uncertainty, Taiwan's defense minister, Tang Yiau-ming, submitted his resignation on Sunday because of eye problems, the Ministry of Defense said. Tang had said before the election that he intended to step down after the vote.

Chen and Vice President Annette Lu (search) were shot and slightly wounded Friday while riding in an open Jeep in Chen's hometown of Tainan. Nobody has been arrested, and police have not identified any suspects.

To head off speculation that Chen staged the shooting, his office released photographs of his wounds, and prosecutors said tests had shown that two bullets found at the scene had been fired from a gun and were the ones that injured Chen and Lu.

The opposition believes the shooting may have given Chen the edge he needed to win.

But a referendum championed by Chen and also held Saturday failed because many voters decided to boycott it. The ballot question — Taiwan's first island-wide referendum — was fiercely opposed by Beijing, which saw it as a rehearsal for a vote on Taiwan independence.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and China wants the island to rejoin the mainland and has threatened military action if it moves toward independence. The ballot question asked whether to beef up Taiwan's military defenses against China.

Lien's party argued that Chen did not have the legal authority to call the referendum and successfully rallied Taiwanese to skip the vote.

Lien's supporters scuffled with police in central and southern Taiwan after the election results were announced late Saturday, and an estimated 10,000 convened Sunday in front of the Presidential Office to call for an immediate recount.

The High Court ordered all ballot boxes sealed to preserve evidence, but did not immediately order a recount.

Hundreds of Lien supporters were still were blowing air horns near the Presidential Office early Monday as businesses and schools reopened.

The crowd grew to about 6,000 as people finished work or classes. Showing their determination, protesters had set up a dozen of colorful tents carrying the words: "Not going home without a recount."

Columns of police kept their distance and made no sign of preparing to remove the protesters.

The deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Huang Wen-chung, said investigators still had no leads in the shooting and urged the public to share any possible evidence.