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Taiwan court to hear recount lawsuit
Updated: 2004-04-02 14:22

Taiwan's "high court" opens a hearing on Friday on an opposition lawsuit contesting the narrow election victory of Chen Shui-bian, and a court ruling could lead to a speedy recount and help resolve a political crisis over the disputed March 20 election.

Chen defeated his Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) challenger, Lien Chan, by less than 30,000 votes out of more than 13 million cast. Lien says a mysterious election-eve shooting that slightly wounded Chen caused a swelling of sympathy votes.

Lien's lawsuit aims to nullify Chen's victory and cites voting irregularities and a record 330,000 invalid ballots that were triple the number rejected in the last "presidential election" four years ago.

The court will decide whether to re-examine the invalid ballots. Chen has agreed to a full judicial recount.

Lien has also demanded an independent inquiry into the assassination attempt and has suggested it could have been staged, a view Chen has dismissed.

Lin Fong-cheng, secretary-general of the Nationalist Party warned of "endless" protests for the next four years if an impartial investigation was not held into the shooting.

Half a million people led by Lien staged sit-in demonstration on March 27 in Taipei to dispute the election outcome in the island's biggest political protest. It is reported another massive rally of up to 50,000 was scheduled for April 3 in Taipei.


The mainland has expressed its concern about Taiwan's political turmoil and has warned that Beijing would not sit idly by if protests spiralled out of control.

The People's Daily said on Friday Taiwan's election dispute would fester and grow into long-term political and legal battles. "It will be tantamount to us watching a lively series about so-called democracy," it said.

Chen has consented to a recount of all ballots -- including spoiled and blank votes -- but disagrees with his opponent on how a recount should proceed and who would pay the bill, expected to be about T$100 million (US$3 million).

To save money, Lien's lawyers want to first examine valid ballots for Chen, invalid votes and blank votes. But Chen's lawyers say all ballots should be checked.

"If they only want to examine valid ballots cast for Chen and not those cast for Lien, it can't be called a full recount," said Ku Li-hsiung, who leads Chen's legal team for the case.

The "central election commission" says most of the 330,000 invalid ballots were rejected because voters had stamped their votes outside designated squares on the paper.

Opposition lawyers plan to file another lawsuit to invalidate the poll, which they hope could lead to a new election. However, the chances of that lawsuit succeeding are seen as remote.

Investigators released pictures

Investigators released more pictures Friday of potential witnesses of the puzzling shooting.

Officials urged those in the photos - a man carrying a little girl on his shoulders and two people with their backs to the camera - to report to police for questioning.

Investigators still haven't identified any suspects, but they've been trying to interview people who lined the streets on March 19.

A bullet grazed Chen's abdomen and another hit Chen's running mate Annette Lu's knee as they campaigned in an open Jeep in the southern city of Tainan. Both went to a hospital but were released within hours.

Some have insinuated that Chen may have staged the shooting to gain sympathy votes. He won by 0.2 percent.

One of the pictures shown to the media Friday featured a man carrying a little girl on his shoulders. The girl is waving a flag. Investigators also want to know the identity of a woman who is making a cell phone call in the background.

The second picture shows a person walking away from the camera.

He's wearing a white cap and a dark T-shirt with two orange stripes.

Officials said they wanted to know whether those pictured saw anything suspicious.

Two young women came to the prosecutors' office on Thursday after investigators showed their photos on television. They were questioned, but officials didn't reveal any details. They were not held.

Tainan prosecutor Kuo Chen-ni declined to discuss whether the investigators were making any progress.

Three U.S. forensics experts visited the shooting scene this week and examined Chen's stomach wound. The team was sent by renowned forensics expert Henry Lee at the request of Taiwan authorities.

Lee is expected to submit a report, using the team's information, to authorities later this month.

Lee was involved in the O.J. Simpson murder investigation and the still-unsolved JonBenet Ramsey child abduction and murder case in the United States.

In an interview with Taiwan's TVBS cable news, Lee said he doubted conspiracy theories that Chen staged the shooting.

However, Lee said the shooting was also not likely an assassination attempt ``because an assassin would have aimed at the chest, heart, or used a more powerful gun.''

Taiwanese investigators have said the shooter used a homemade handgun.

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