Protests, rumours of terrorist attack, mar opening of university games in Taipei

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen opens event amid protests, mainland boycott, and rumours that Islamic State sympathisers had entered the island

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:20pm

Taiwan went on high alert as the 2017 Universiade kicked off in Taipei on Saturday amid public protests and rumours of a possible attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists.

The global event, which was opened by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, was dogged by ideological debates over whether Taiwan – as a host entity – should fly its official Republic of China flag throughout the competitions.

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Athletes from the mainland refused to take part in the opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, authorities were on high alert throughout the day after the Taipei Labour Affairs Department was tipped off by a group representing foreign workers in Taiwan that a terrorist with ties to IS entered Taiwan on Friday as a foreign worker.

“We quickly passed on that intelligence to the police to follow up,” department head Lai Hsiang-ling said.

A report by the island’s semi-official Central News Agency, claiming that a foreign Taekwondo coach whose family was connected to IS would arrive for the event’s opening, fuelled rumours of a possible terrorist attack on the island. As of Saturday evening, the authorities had refused to confirm the report.

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CNA also reported that the authorities were investigating reports that an Indonesian maid working in Taiwan had expressed sympathy with IS on social media.

More than 5,600 uniformed and plain clothes police were on duty to ensure the smooth opening of the Universiade – the most prominent global sporting event to be hosted by the Taipei City Government, which hoped it would increase the island’s visibility and political standing in the world.

Military police carrying rifles were seen patrolling near the Taipei stadium where Tsai announced the opening of the event.

On Friday, Tsai was briefly interrupted during a gathering of her staff and their children at the Presidential Office Building by a man waving a stolen samurai sword who later confessed to police that he intended to kill the president.

Police found a People’s Republic of China flag in his backpack and a death note saying he admired the progress of the mainland and the leadership of Xi Jinping.

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Mainland athletes refused to attend the opening ceremony in which Tsai was referred to as the president of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s official title. Beijing deems the designation inappropriate as it considers Taiwan to be renegade province subject to eventual unification.

The opening was marred by more than four rounds of protests and scuffles outside the stadium by hundreds of protesters, including those supporting either Taiwan independence of unification with the mainland.

More than 7,700 athletes from 141 countries are competing in 22 different sports at the event that runs until August 30.