Taiwan Protesters Target Chiang Kai-Shek Statues on Massacre Anniversary

The island marks the 70th anniversary of an armed crackdown by the Kuomintang (KMT) that left tens of thousands dead in 1947.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen meets with survivors and their descendants on the 70th anniversary of Feb. 28 massacre, Feb. 28, 2017.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Taiwan on Tuesday in a call for justice for the victims of a Feb. 28, 1947 massacre, as activists tried to topple statues of late Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek on the 70th anniversary of mass killings that he ordered.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside the gates of Taipei's iconic Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which was shut for the day, burning the national flag and throwing eggs.

Carrying placards that read "Destroy the authoritarian icon!" the crowd chanted "Down with the 2.28 murderer!"

The 2.28 incident resulted in the deaths of an estimated 18,000 to 28,000 people in an armed crackdown that lasted into early May of 1947.

Meanwhile, some protesters clashed with Chiang supporters in Taipei on Tuesday, as they headed towards the main building of the hall.

The protests come amid growing calls for the removal of Chiang's statue and image from public places in a repudiation of the darkest period in the democratic island's history.

The government announced last week that the memorial hall will cease sales of Chiang-related merchandise and and stop playing songs praising him.

But officials have said a 6.3-meter (20-feet) bronze statue of Chiang seated will remain in the hall, where a high-stepping guard of honor provides a daily tourist spectacle.

Police in Taipei briefly detained four people after a group of activists at the island's Fu Jen Catholic University tried to topple a statue of Chiang Kai-shek on campus.

The activists, most of whom were students, were stopped by police after they started sawing at the bronze statue's base with an angle grinder, trying to topple it with ropes.

Others scuffled with police arriving at the scene in a bid to prevent them from stopping the action.

'Tainted legacy'

Police took four of the activists, two of them students, into custody for questioning.

The group later released a statement saying they had taken "to cleanse the campus of a tainted legacy and of [Chiang] worship."

They hit out at the use of "state machinery" to prevent their protest.

A 2006 report by the government-funded Memorial Foundation of 228 found that Chiang Kai-shek bore the main responsibility for the killings, prompting victims' groups and social activists to call for an end to public veneration of the late Generalissimo.

A huge memorial hall to Chiang in the island's capital Taipei was closed for the day on Tuesday by the democratic island's ministry of culture, out of respect for victims, and to "prevent social conflict" following a number of vandalism incidents targeting statues there.

The massacre was triggered after a fight broke out between government officials and an illegal cigarette vendor in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947, sparking an uprising of native Taiwanese against the incoming KMT regime.

Further violence followed as the KMT imposed decades of martial law, including several waves of political purges of government opponents that saw 140,000 tried by military courts in an era known as the White Terror and thousands executed.

Taiwan had been ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to China as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

A second group of activists also tried to topple a Chiang statue in the northern port city of Keelung, "clashing with police," local media reported.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is home to many pro-independence activists and those who reject the island's links to mainland China, attended a memorial service for the 2.28 massacre on Tuesday.

'Transitional justice'

Tsai spoke in favor of the "transitional justice" movement which seeks truth and reconciliation surrounding the island's dark past under the KMT's authoritarian rule.

"The goal of transitional justice is to reconcile, not to fight," Tsai told the gathering.

"We hope that one day, the truth will be fully clarified, the perpetrators will be willing to apologize and that the victims and their families will also be willing to forgive," she said.

Relatives of the victims are also calling on the government to list those responsible for the massacre in official records and textbooks, as well as opening up restricted records to researchers and historians.

In 1947, incoming war-hardened KMT troops and hardships triggered by massive post-war inflation were a stark contrast to the five decades of relative peace and prosperity the island had enjoyed as part of Japan, and the local people rose up against their newly imposed rulers.

But the KMT government, which relocated entirely to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland, kept records of the era secret.

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of the island's president Lee Teng-hui in 1996.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei and Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.