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Taiwan's Ma blames own party for 1947 massacre as candidates appeal to centrists

Taiwan's Ma blames own party for 1947 massacre as candidates appeal to centrists

Taiwanese presidential candidates appealed for support from key centrist voters Thursday as they honored victims of a 1947 massacre that remains a major source of acrimony for millions across the island.
Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Nationalists blamed his own party for the Feb. 28 bloodshed that left thousands of native Taiwanese dead at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces. Ma's speech at a remembrance ceremony was seen as an outreach to native Taiwanese voters.
Meanwhile, Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party struck a tone of national unity _ in contrast to President Chen Shui-bian, who earlier in the day appeared to be appealing to anti-Nationalist sentiment by hinting the opposition still is not owning up to its role in the massacre.
The candidates spoke less than four weeks before presidential elections in which communal identity _ membership in one of two major sub-groups, the native Taiwanese and the mainlanders who came with Chiang in 1949 _ could figure prominently.
The 1947 killings were triggered by an altercation between a Nationalist soldier and a Taiwanese woman. The date they broke out, usually referred to here as "2.28," is a major anniversary for native Taiwanese. They are descendants of people who immigrated from the Chinese mainland in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Nationalists have long been identified with the families of people who accompanied Chiang from the Chinese mainland after Mao Zedong's communists took power there in 1949.
Ma went out of his way to extend a hand of friendship to native Taiwanese voters while speaking at 2.28 remembrance ceremonies in the southern city of Chiayi.
Foregoing his usual Mandarin Chinese for the Taiwanese dialect _ popular among the native group _ Ma told victims' relatives that his party bore direct responsibility for the mass killings 61 years ago.
"The government (in 1947) was corrupt and ineffective, and people were leading hard lives," he said. "This is what led to the 2.28 incident."
Ma's condemnation mirrors remarks he made in 2006, which held the Nationalists accountable for the massacre.
Speaking to supporters in front of his Taipei campaign headquarters, Hsieh avoided playing the communal card and instead called for national reconciliation.
"We're not fighting against any party," he said. "The spirit of Taiwan is to unite and pursue freedom."
Hsieh's remarks stood in marked contrast Chen's hard-hitting tone earlier in the day.
Addressing supporters at the 2.28 Memorial Hall in Taipei, Chen condemned an unnamed "group of people in our society who will not own up to the human rights abuses perpetrated by past authoritarian governments."
"They even demand the victims forgive their tormentors for the sake of communal harmony," he said.
Chen's reference appeared to be to Nationalists who have tried to paper over the party's role in the 1947 events.
Throughout his eight-year presidency, Chen has tried to use anti-Nationalist sentiment among some native Taiwanese to bolster the standing of his Democratic Progressive Party.
Ma himself has made a major effort to appeal to the non-mainlander element _ about 70 percent of Taiwan's population of 23 million.
Less than a month before the presidential elections, Ma is leading comfortably in opinion polls, though Hsieh hopes that he can close the gap by mobilizing hardcore DPP supporters, as well as centrist voters with a residual animus toward Nationalist rule.
The Nationalists governed Taiwan until 2000, when the Chen won the island's second direct presidential election.


Updated : 2021-07-26 06:19 GMT+08:00