Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Taiwan on Saturday in response to opposition demands for a referendum that would mandate a formal inquiry into a March 19 assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian and Vice-President Annette Lu, RFA reports.

The Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist)-led opposition was narrowly defeated in a March 20 poll following the shootings, during which Chen and Lu were slightly injured. The KMT says the shootings unfairly influenced the result of the ballot, resulting in a winning margin for Chen of just 0.22 percent.

"We have gathered here today with deep feeling of grief," defeated presidential candidate Lien Chan told a whistle and horn-blowing crowd outside the Presidential Office in downtown Taipei. "There are thousands of compatriots who are not here today, but they also feel sad, because Mr. Chen Shui-bian still remains arrogant... evading the people's demands and turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the people's demands," Lien said.

Police said an estimated 110,000 people turned out. Clashes broke out later in the day, as riot police sprayed hundreds of bottle-throwing protesters with water cannon after they tried to knock over barbed-wire barricades and storm the Presidential Office.

"We want to advise him that evasion and turning a blind eye will not last long, nor will it be of any use for him to continue to hide behind barbed wire," Lien told demonstrators, amid shouts of "Taiwan democracy, go go go!"

Lien's running mate James Soong said the opposition demands for an independent inquiry had the support of more than 70 percent of Taiwan people.

"So many people have been fooled and the election results were adversely affected... Mr. Chen Shui-bian, what are you afraid of?" Soong said, to be answered by shouts of "A guilty conscience!"

Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party has agreed in principle to a recount of the existing votes, but rejects calls for a special task force to examine the case. Opposition supporters collected signatures at the rally for a petition calling for the referendum on a probe into the shooting.

Election authorities will have to hold a referendum if the motion is signed by 0.5 percent of the electorate, or 82,500 voters, and endorsed by five percent, or 825,000.

Two weeks ago a rally against Chen's disputed victory drew 500,000 people, and one last weekend was joined by some 40,000 outside the presidential building.

A forensic team led by Taiwan-educated U.S. forensic expert Henry Lee is currently investigating the shooting. Lee, who was involved in investigations following the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, examined Chen's injury Friday and confirmed it was "fresh."

The team also tried to reconstruct the crime scene in Tainan, southern Taiwan, where Chen and Lu were shot while campaigning from an open-topped jeep one day ahead of the polls. #####


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