Listen to RFA�s Mandarin reporting:
TAINAN, TAIWAN�Taiwan�s president and vice-president escaped an apparent double-assassination bid Friday as they campaigned a day ahead of the island�s presidential election, RFA reports. The Chinese media waited more than six hours to report the shootings.
President Chen Shui-Bian was shot in the stomach while Vice President Annette Lu was wounded in the knee in the southern city of Tainan. Both were hospitalized and then sent home to recuperate.
Both Chen and Lu broadcast messages of reassurance to the island and urged Taiwan voters to cast ballots in the election on Saturday. Officials said the election, along with a controversial referendum on defense, would go forth as planned.
�I very much appreciate the concerns from my fellow countrymen. Thanks to the good care and treatment by medical staff, I am now all right, so please set your minds at ease,� Chen said in a broadcast message, looking drawn and tired. �After this incident, relevant mechanisms of national security and other government agencies have been activated, and our national security is ensured. Please stay at ease.�
�It is the responsibility of the president and the vice-president to protect the people from wind and rain,� Lu said. �Tomorrow is the day for the presidential election and referendum. Please, everybody, practice your sacred rights.�
The shootings occurred as Chen and Lu paraded through Chen�s southern stronghold here in an open-topped jeep, said Chen�s spokesman Chiou I-jen. Chen suffered an 11-cm gash when a bullet gouged his abdomen.
The wound was sealed with 14 stitches, said hospital director Jan Chi-hsien. He said Lu suffered a bullet graze on her right knee. �There is a distinct bullet entry hole on the right side of his jacket. The bullet went into his abdomen from the right side and came out from left,� said one a doctor at the hospital who asked not to be named. �The blood-stained clothes along with the bullet have been sent for determination.�
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the shootings, which followed a bitter campaign pegged largely to relations with China and marred by mudslinging.
The streets of Tainan had quietened considerably late Friday after the shooting. However, Chen�s supporters were still in evidence in the city.
�I think that Chen Shui-bian�s injury will make more people vote for him,� said one bystander in Tainan after the shooting.
Taiwan legislator Wang Hsi-nan, who accompanied Chen and Lu to Tainan, said the parade started off like just any other day on the campaign trail. Then the motorcade entered a pall of firecracker smoke, and chaos erupted.
�We thought it was just a normal firecracker. Then we realized it was a gunshot,� Wang told RFA.
Chen�s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) declined to speculate on how the shootings might affect the outcome of the vote. Chen and his challenger, Lien Chan, have been neck-and-neck in recent polls, and even a small sympathy vote might be enough to lead Chen to victory.
More than 16 million people are eligible to vote and a turnout of about 80 percent had been expected. The vote will only be the third direct presidential election in Taiwan.
The campaign has been long and bitter, notably over Chen�s plans to hold a referendum vote separate from the presidential election that will ask voters whether Taiwan should increase defenses against some 500 Chinese missiles pointing at the island.
China sees the referendum as an attempt to take the island closer to independence, which it has threatened to oppose by military force.
The referendum has been criticized by France, Japan, Germany, the European Union and, most crucially in a rare rebuke, by its biggest ally and arms supplier, the United States.
More than six hours after the shootings, a Chinese government spokesman issued a brief factual report and vowed to follow developments. A spokesman for the cabinet�s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing had �taken notice� of the shootings, the official Xinhua news agency reported, adding: �We�ll continue to follow the developments.�
Beijing has professed indifference to the outcome of the election but remains highly suspicious of Chen, who leans toward independence for the self-governing island. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Xinhua said Chen and Lu had been slightly wounded during �electoral campaigning,� and that the incident was under investigation. Its two-paragraph story referred to Chen and Lu as �Taiwan authorities� leaders.� #####