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Taiwan rivals try to break deadlock over election crisis
By (Agencies)
Updated: 2004-03-24 16:43

Taiwan's bitter political rivals attempted to thrash out a deal for a ballot recount to end a crisis that has gripped the island since Chen Shui-bian's narrow re-election win.

Chen agreed to a recount after the island's stock market fell nearly 10 percent over two days and hundreds of protestors continued to camp outside the "presidential office" in Taipei.

But moves to amend the law broke up in fighting in the island's "parliament" Tuesday after the opposition, which had already begun legal action that could take months, said it wanted an immediate recount.

It disputed claims by ruling party legislators that a recount could be held as early as this week and the two sides were due to continue a meeting Wednesday to try to end the deadlock.

A senior official said the earliest a new count could be held once parliament approved the amendment, allowing a recount if the margin of victory is less than one percent, would likely be the weekend of April 3.

The acrimonious wrangling comes after days of protests following an assassination attempt on the eve of voting and Chen's subsequent narrow victory over rival Lien Chan by fewer than 30,000 votes out of 13.25 million cast.

Chen, 53, Tuesday rejected allegations of vote-rigging and said the assassination attempt was genuine, after the Kuomintang-led (KMT) opposition raised suspicions over the shooting which it claimed cost them 500,000 votes.

Chen and his running mate Annette Lu were slightly injured by an unknown gunman in the crowds as he campaigned in the southern city of Tainan.

The High Court has ordered more than 13,700 ballot boxes be sealed in preparation for a recount.

The wafer-thin victory -- Chen polled 50.11 percent of the vote compared with 49.89 percent for Lien -- capped an acrimonious election.

Chen is viewed with alarm by Beijing which believes he is pushing the island towards independence, and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing spoke to US Secretary of State Colin Powell to urge Washington to intervene.

The United States has also yet to officially congratulate the winner of the poll but has welcomed the high turnout of 80 percent and said it was confident the island could resolve its difficulties calmly.

The opposition blames its defeat on a high number of spoiled ballots, a series of voting irregularities and what it claims was 200,000 military and police being barred from voting because of a higher state of alert prompted by the shooting.

Tens of hundreds of KMT supporters remained outside the "presidential office" overnight in a demonstration that started last Saturday after Chen was announced as the winner.

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