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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Chen's speech reaches out to foes
By Caroline Gluck
BBC, Taiwan

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian used his inauguration speech on Thursday to strike a conciliatory tone.

President Chen Shui-bian, 20 May
Rain failed to dampen Mr Chen's enthusiasm
He said Taiwan and China should try to resolve their differences, and adopt a new way of thinking to overcome future problems.

He also promised that his controversial plans to reform the island's constitution would not touch on the sensitive issues of sovereignty or independence, which China has warned could lead to war.

"He said a lot of things, and he did not provoke China... he showed some goodwill," said George Tsai, of the Institute of International Relations in Taipei.

"And as far as the US is concerned, his statement was acceptable. It is not likely to cause any more trouble, any new headaches," he said.

Mr Tsai believes that while President Chen showed his maturity in Thursday's speech, many are still unconvinced of his next move.

"China will probably still look at this speech with suspicion - and draw some negative conclusions. The reason so many people are afraid is that he is so unpredictable. He says one thing today, but he may do something else tomorrow," said Mr Tsai.

Opposition anger

Mr Chen used his speech, outlining his key goals for his next four years in office, to try to reach out to his rivals.

We have high doubts on his legitimacy. He can govern, but he will face great difficulties ahead
John Chang, KMT legislator
Acknowledging the controversy surrounding his narrow election win, he promised to work for social harmony, ease ethnic divisions and rebuild trust with his opponents.

"Unite Taiwan, stabilize cross-Strait relations, seek social harmony and reinvigorate the economy. These are the earnest hopes of the people and the pre-eminent mission of my new administration," he declared.

But that message fell on deaf ears among the small groups of protestors standing outside the headquarters of the largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

A black banner draped across the building read: "No Truth, No President". Supporters carried black balloons symbolising the death of democracy, and wore face masks saying "no justice".

"I just hold my balloon... to tell Mr Chen 'I don't want you as president,'" said one female protestor. "I wish in the future, he can do right and listen to us."

"Our democracy is dying," said another woman. "We are still recounting the votes. But to him [the president] we are nothing. We've protested for weeks, but he still ignores us."

Taiwan's High Court is still examining two legal challenges to the election outcome, which the opposition says was unfairly influenced by the mysterious shooting and wounding of the president on the eve of the poll.

Opposition supporters , 20 May
KMT supporters held a protest to coincide with Mr Chen's speech
KMT legislator John Chang, a former foreign minister, said that until those challenges were resolved, President Chen's leadership remained questionable.

"We have high doubts on his legitimacy. He can govern, but he will face great difficulties ahead," Mr Chang predicted.

That reinforces the idea among many that while the president may have the legal authority to govern, he lacks the moral authority to guide the nation.

"It's going to be difficult for him to rule the country with only half of the population supporting him," said Emily Chow, a political analyst at Ming Chuan University.

"The first year will be very difficult for him, especially as the opposition will still be challenging the result of the presidential election."

Without a strong mandate, President Chen will have to try to do a lot of fence-mending.

Even within his own Democratic Progressive Party, some politicians have urged him to concentrate on healing the social rifts, rather than pushing ahead with some of his more controversial policies.

"The whole of society is in a bad mood," said outspoken DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung. "Things cannot be healed in the near-term."

The legal challenges to the election still need to be resolved.

The past few months have been a turbulent period in Taiwan's vibrant young democracy. What many believe is needed now is a period of calm - a time to reflect, and to reunite.




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