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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Independence calls spark Taiwan rallies
Pro-reunification protester holding a placard that says 'Moving close to the United States and Japan, a loss of sovereignty and a national humiliation'
Pro-China supporters do not want the island's name changed

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Taiwan over the weekend as the debate over the island's relationship with China heats up.

About 4,000 pro-China supporters staged a march through the capital, Taipei, on Sunday to show support for the island's official name, the Republic of China.

This comes a day after a much larger demonstration by about 50,000 independence activists to demand that the name be formally changed to Taiwan.

China regards the self-governing island as a breakaway province and complained bitterly last week when Taiwanese passports were issued for the first time bearing the word Taiwan.

Pro-independence groups say they can never hope to join the international community as a separate country unless the name is changed.

The supporters of reunification played patriotic songs and carried banners reading 'The Republic of China is our Mother', 'Long Live the Republic of China' as they marched through Taipei.

We can't let history block democracy and the development of the country any more
Former president Lee Teng-hui
"By arguing about names, it seeks to spoil relations between Taiwan and mainland China," said a spokesman.

"There would be hope for Taiwan only through peaceful reunification with the mainland," he added.

A handful of right-wingers burnt an effigy of the former president Lee Teng-hui, who led the pro-independence march on Saturday.

"Lee Teng-hui is the scumbag of the Chinese people," said one angry demonstrator. "We hope he will die as soon as possible".

Elections

Mr Lee told Saturday's pro-independence rally: "Today's event is a self-awakening movement of the people.

"For a long period of time, we let the external forces determine how we should live. We can't let history block democracy and the development of the country any more," said the 80-year-old.

Pro-independence demonstrators at a mass rally in Taiwan
Many want Taiwan recognised as an independent country
With an election less than six months away, the current President Chen Shui-bian stayed away from the event.

He has toned down his pro-independence stance in recent years, although he has refused to embrace Beijing's one-China principle that states Taiwan is a part of China.

Correspondents say they expect the independence issue to be central to next year's election campaign.

The official name is a legacy from when the Nationalist Party which ruled mainland China fled to the island after losing a civil war to the communists in 1949.

China - officially called the People's Republic of China - has threatened to reclaim Taiwan by force if the island ever formally declares independence.

Taiwan is formally recognised by fewer than 30 countries and was replaced at the United Nations by China in 1971.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Chris Hogg
"The march was largely peaceful, but there were some scuffles"



SEE ALSO:
Taiwan issues 'provocative' passports
01 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
HK unrest fans Taiwan fears
15 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
China presses Taiwan on links
24 Jan 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Taiwan's relations with China
21 Feb 01  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Taiwan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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