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Taiwanese protesters attack Chinese envoy

October 23, 2008

October 21, 2008

TAIPEI - Scores of Taiwanese pro-independence activists on Tuesday
shoved a top Chinese official to the ground during his visit to the
self-ruled island, sparking anger in Beijing.

Television footage showed the protesters surrounding Zhang Mingqing
and pushing him to the ground while he was visiting a temple in the
southern city of Tainan.

Zhang, the vice president of China's quasi-official Association for
Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, had to be supported by a guide
and escorted back to his car as protesters tried to punch him and
prevent him leaving.

After he ducked into the car a man climbed onto its roof and stamped
on it repeatedly, shouting "Get out!"

Zhang later told reporters that he was slightly injured in the fray
and said such violence "should not be tolerated in any civilized
society," but insisted the development of cross-Strait ties "would
not be hampered."

He attributed the incident to a "small group of people trying to
sabotage cross-Strait ties".

Later in Beijing, China angrily demanded that Taiwan severely punish
the activists who manhandled Zhang.

"We express strong indignation and condemnation at this type of
uncivilized behaviour and demand severe punishment of the culprits,"
an unnamed spokesman for the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office said
in a statement.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 following a civil war, but Beijing
regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification,
by force if necessary.

Zhang's semi-official association is authorized by Beijing to handle
civilian exchanges with Taiwan, in the absence of official contacts
between the two sides.

Taiwanese police promised to beef up security for Zhang after the
scuffle, which was also condemned by Taiwan Premier Liu Chao-shiuan
and the ruling Kuomintang party.

"The incident seriously damaged the image of Taiwanese people and
this is not the way to treat a guest," the Kuomintang said in a statement.

Tainan, where the incident took place, is a stronghold of the
opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which favours independence,
and the Kuomintang called on the DPP leadership to apologize.

The DPP in turn accused Zhang of being an "enemy" of Taiwan.

"China uses toxic milk to poison Taiwanese people and deploys
missiles to threaten us. We do not consider Zhang a guest, but an
enemy, and no one will treat an enemy nicely," opposition lawmaker
Yeh Yi-jin told reporters.

Prosecutors in Tainan later summoned Wang Ting-yu, a DPP city
councillor, for questioning on suspicion of pushing Zhang.

Wang insisted Zhang had simply tripped.

"He fell after kicking tree roots in the temple and we pulled him up
. . . he fell on his own," Wang told reporters.

Zhang had arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, and Monday attended a seminar
at a university in Tainan where he was heckled by pro-independence activists.

His trip comes as Taiwan is trying to arrange a new round of
cross-Strait negotiations, after talks with China in June led to the
first regular direct flights between the island and the mainland in
nearly six decades.

Ties have improved dramatically since Taiwan's China-friendly
president Ma Ying-jeou took office earlier this year. He has promised
to improve business and tourism ties with China following eight years
of strained relations under his pro-independence predecessor Chen Shui-bian.

Zhang's boss Chen Yunlin is expected to visit the island in the
coming weeks for more talks, but Tuesday's scuffle heightened
concerns that those plans could be scrapped.

No itinerary has been finalized for those talks, but newspapers here
have said they will be held in Taipei between late October and early
November and will focus on cargo flights and shipping links.
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