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Taiwan Citizens Join President in Massive Protest Against China - 2004-02-28

The people of Taiwan have joined their president in a massive demonstration calling for the dismantling of Chinese missiles pointed at the island. The demonstration was also aimed at rallying support for President Chen Shui-bian's re-election on March 20.

Cheers and singing marked the start of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's protest against China on Saturday.

Organizers of the rally said more than a million supporters turned out to form a human chain the length of Taiwan from north to south - a distance of almost 500 kilometers.

President Chen, speaking in front of thousands of demonstrators, called for lasting peace between China and Taiwan.

He also asked the people to cast two ballots next month. He asked voters to re-elect him on March 20 and he called on them to participate in a referendum on whether Taiwan should increase its anti-missile defenses if China does not withdraw the hundreds of missiles it has pointed at the island.

Taiwan has been governed separately from the mainland since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government fled to the island after being defeated by the Communist Party in a bloody civil war. But so far, both sides have agreed that there is only one China, and Taiwan is a part of it.

Mr. Chen has personally expressed support for independence for the island, however. His announcement of a referendum has angered Beijing, which sees the move as a possible step toward a declaration of independence.

China has long threatened to use force if Taiwan were to move towards independence, or if it is too slow in agreeing to reunification with the mainland.

Opinion polls show President Chen trailing Nationalist Party candidate Lien Chan by several percentage points. Some analysts suggest the massive turnout for Saturday's demonstration will increase support for the president's re-election.