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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 16:16 GMT
Injured Chen seeks to calm Taiwan
Chen supporters cheering
There was jubilation as supporters heard the president would live
Taiwan's president and vice-president have broadcast messages of reassurance hours after they both escaped an attempted assassination.

The leaders - shot as they campaigned for Saturday's presidential elections - said both they and Taiwan's security were fine and urged people to vote.

A bullet grazed President Chen Shui-bian's stomach while Vice-President Annette Lu was hit in the knee.

Both were taken to hospital but have since been allowed home to recuperate.

Reports that the president had been shot while campaigning in his southern home town of Tainan prompted tearful outpourings of shock both there and in the capital, Taipei, followed by jubilation when it became clear Mr Chen was not badly hurt.

Officials said Saturday's presidential election and a controversial referendum on defence would proceed as planned, though both main parties cancelled their final campaign rallies.

An investigation task force has been established and a reward of $90,000 has been offered for information on whoever shot at the politicians as they stood in the back of an open-top car.

Security 'assured'

President Chen referred to his nickname as he told his national television audience: "There's no problem with A-bian."

Please be calm and relieved
President Chen Shui-bian

Correspondents said he looked drawn during the short broadcast, in which he thanked people for their concern.

"The national security mechanism has been put in place. Taiwan's security is assured. Please be calm and relieved," he said.

Ms Lu said the gunshots had shocked everyone, but said that should not deter voters.

"It is the responsibility of the president and the vice-president to protect the people from wind and rain," she said.

"Tomorrow is the day for the presidential election and referendum. Please everybody practise your sacred rights."

Fourteen stitches

The mayor of Tainan, Hsu Tain-tsair, who heads the city's police force, offered the reward at a news conference at which he apologised "to the entire nation that this occurred in the normally peaceful city of Tainan."

Both Mr Chen and Mrs Lu are now recovering at their official residences in Taipei.

Taiwan president and vice-president after shooting
TV pictures showed what appeared to be blood, though this later turned out to have been a red safety belt
The president underwent surgery at the Chi Mei hospital in Tainan to remove the bullet from his stomach and received 14 stitches, but he was not seriously hurt and was able to leave the hospital just hours after being injured.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Taiwan says the president and vice-president were being driven in a red open-top car through crowds of supporters when the shots were fired.

A bullet-hole was visible in the windscreen of the car at the front of a motorcade.

The streets of Tainan, the president's home town, had been packed with cheering supporters and celebratory firecrackers were being set off and initially it was thought they had been injured by a firework.

"The vice-president first felt pain in her knee and she thought it was caused by firecrackers," presidential secretary general Chiou I-jen told a news conference in Taipei.

"Then the president felt some wetness on his stomach area, and then they realised something was wrong."

The pair were whisked to hospital for treatment, but left some hours later when they were driven to Air Force One, the presidential plane, to fly to Taipei.

Sympathy support?

Correspondents say it is the first such attack on a president in Taiwan and may well affect Saturday's voting in what had already been a close race.

President Chen's stomach
The president received an 11-cm wound
Some experts predict Mr Chen could benefit from a sudden wave of public sympathy though his opponent, Lien Chan, said he did not think the shooting would be a factor for voters.

Along with the presidential election, there will also be a nationwide referendum on whether Taiwan should beef up its defences against hundreds of Chinese missiles pointed at the island.

Beijing has so far issued no response to the shooting.

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province which should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"President Chen's supporters are hoping a sympathy vote could swing the election his way"



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