Mixed response to removal of Chiang tribute

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am

The last word of a phrase eulogising Taiwan's late Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek was finally removed yesterday from the main gate guarding a three-decade-old memorial, evoking mixed responses to a government-led campaign to erase Chiang's legacy.

Some burst into tears while others uncorked wine after workers removed the words and placed them on the ground with a crane.

'How could he do that? Dictator, Ah-Bian is a dictator,' shouted one of the opponents of the move, referring to Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian's decision to rename the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall without consulting public opinion.

But Mr Chen's supporters shouted back, saying it was right to remove remnants honouring 'a dictator who had killed many Taiwanese'.

'Long live Taiwan's democracy,' Chen supporters shouted.

About 500 police officers prevented clashes and despite the shouting match and minor scuffles, no major violence was reported.

Scores of Chiang's supporters had rallied outside the memorial since Wednesday to protest against the renaming of the memorial and the removal of plaques bearing his name.

On Thursday, workers removed the marble plaque from the memorial hall and dismantled it into 15 pieces. It took them about nine hours yesterday to take down the huge eulogy.

Education Ministry officials said the marble pieces and words from the eulogy would be 'safely kept' in a storeroom at the memorial. They expected to put up the new names - 'Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall' and 'Freedom Square' - today before reopening the memorial, which has been condoned off since Wednesday. Other than criticising Mr Chen for acting dictatorially by ordering the renaming, the KMT has been careful not to react too strongly and has refrained from massing supporters to stage violent protests.

KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou accused Mr Chen yesterday of trying to agitate confrontation in order to consolidate support from the pro-independence camp ahead of the legislative elections in January and the presidential poll in March.

'As elections are approaching, without any administrative performance to brag about, [Mr Chen] has to resort to the confrontational tactic to divide Taiwan in order to distract public attention from his impotence,' he said.

Education Ministry secretary general Chuang Kuo-jung, whose ministry was in charge of the removal, defended Mr Chen, saying that when the KMT built the memorial and many other establishments, it had never consulted the public.

Some Taipei citizens born after Chiang died in 1975 said it was meaningless for the two camps to argue about the issue because the memorial was 'just a Taipei landmark for tourists and nothing more'.