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Protesters Against China's Anti-Secession Law Rally in Taipei


Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, to protest China's passage this month of an anti-secession law. The law gives Beijing a legal basis to attack Taiwan if it moves toward declaring formal independence.

Organizers had said they would bring huge numbers of people into the streets of Taipei to send a message to Beijing that Taiwan is united against aggression from the mainland. Joining Saturday's massive turn-out was Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, whom China has accused of pushing the island toward formal independence.

The anti-secession law, passed by China's National People's Congress at its annual session this month, is explicitly aimed at Taiwan, and says China will resort to "non-peaceful" means if peaceful measures fail to persuade the island's people to reunite with the mainland.

It codifies a long-standing threat from China's Communist leaders, who from the time of Mao Zedong have promised to gain control of Taiwan. The island, now ruled democratically, has been self-governed since 1949, when Chinese Nationalists fled there following their defeat to Communist forces on the mainland.

The threat of a Chinese attack has been on the minds of the Taiwanese for decades. Saturday's demonstration showed that passage of the law has given the matter new prominence.

Analysts say it has also triggered anger among some Taiwanese, who believe Beijing is using the issue to deflect its own people's attention from deeper problems in China, such as poverty and corruption.

"The PRC's undemocratic regime, for fear of its own domestic legitimacy problems, started to look at Taiwan, and took Taiwan as an issue," said I-Chun Lai, who is with the Taiwan Think Tank, an independent policy research organization in Taipei.

Chinese state-controlled media condemned the march in advance, saying it was driven by what one government newspaper called a handful of diehard secessionists.

China's leaders have attempted to portray the law as a peaceful measure and not a war bill. But the United States and others have expressed concerns that Beijing may use the law to justify an attack on the island.

European Union officials have cited the law as the reason the European Union backed away from a pledge to lift an arms embargo against Beijing, which was first imposed after the bloody crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Although polls have shown a growing number of Taiwanese favor independence, a significant number prefer to retain the status quo. President Chen, who ran on a pro-independence platform, won re-election by a very thin margin last year, and has since softened his approach to the mainland.

There are also signs that fears of war might have some of his supporters thinking twice about independence.

An advisor to Mr. Chen, Hsu Wen-long, who is one of the island's leading businessmen, appeared to break from the party line by warning against an independent Taiwan. In an open letter published in a business newspaper, Mr. Hsu said declaring independence would only lead to war and disaster.

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