'Great Wall of Peace' opposes China
TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff Sunday, February 29, 2004, 12:00 am TWN
President Chen Shui-bian and some two million people yesterday formed a human chain through the country in a carnivalesque demonstration of unity, commemorating the 2-28 Incident and saying no to China's military threats.
"Taiwan Yes! Believe in Taiwan!" the participants chanted as the clock struck 218 p.m., holding hands in a chain stretching some 500 km along the west coast from the northernmost city of Keelung to the southernmost Hengchun peninsula.
Motorists who could not be part of the human chain honked to show their support.
The day-long demonstration to oppose China's deployment of nearly 500 missiles aimed at Taiwan is seen as Chen's best chance of rallying support for his re-election in the March 20 vote.
The rally, the largest ever in Taiwan, was kicked off by President Chen in the morning with prayers and the release of a flock of white doves on Keelung's Hoping (peace) Island.
"I am very happy that together we can write history. This is a Great Wall of Democracy and a Great Wall of Peace," Chen later told thousands of cheering supporters waving flags and blowing horns in the northern county of Miaoli.
"We showed the world our determination to recognize Taiwan and protect Taiwan," Chen said, flanked by former President Lee Teng-hui, who backs his re-election.
"This is the most touching moment of my life," said Lee.
Organizers estimated close to two million people took part in the event, which also marked the anniversary of a massacre of thousands of people killed when Kuomintang troops crushed islandwide rioting which broke out on Feb. 28, 1947.
"We fought hard for our democracy. If we don't stand up and let our voice be heard, China will not take us seriously. Our democracy will amount to nothing," businessman Chang Ping-chen, who joined the chain in Taipei with 20 family members, including his 65-year-old father and two-year-old daughter, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Despite the political concerns and the memories of the bloody killings, the rally went on in a carnivalesque mood.
In Taipei, where tens of thousands of people participated in the rally, about 1,000 people, including foreigners, from a private fitness center performed aerobic dancing in the streets.
In Miaoli, a team of heavy motorbikes with "Taiwan Yes" flags sped through the streets, while another 1,000 people each carried an icon of Buddha to pray for peace. Strawberry vendors also offered their fruit free to the demonstrators.
In Taichung, pets were dressed up, while some played the "erhu" — the Chinese equivalent of a violin. Various kinds of cars and vehicles could be seen, including an ox cart.
In Tainan, a 100-year-old man showed up in a wheelchair to display his objection to China's military threats. A group of about 50 elderly Japanese tourists also joined in the rally in the southern city.
In Taoyuan, another wheelchair-bound 104-year-old woman showed up with five generations of her family.
On the offshore island of Penghu, where no arrangements had been made, some 300 people wanted to be part of history in the making and formed their own human chain at a pier.
Back in Taipei, a rock concert was held in front of the presidential palace from 3 p.m. to 1000 p.m., featuring bands from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the United States, and even China.
In Olanpi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan, another concert was held, featuring folk music and dancing by various ethnic groups and indigenous people.
The rally ended peacefully.
The rally was inspired by a human chain in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in 1989, when more than two million people called for independence from the Soviet Union.
Retired dentist Wayne Wu, 68, said the event was successful. "It was peaceful, short and clear," Wu was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "This was history, and I wanted to be part of it because I am Taiwanese. I am not Chinese."
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