Taiwan to mark 60th anniversary of communal massacre when thousands were killed

A steady stream of visitors paid their respects at Taipei's Peace Park on Tuesday, a day before it becomes the focus of observances commemorating the 60th anniversary of an infamous communal massacre.

On Feb. 28, 1947, Chinese Nationalist soldiers beat a local Taiwanese woman for selling contraband cigarettes near the Taipei rail station. The episode set off rioting throughout the island which Nationalist reinforcements put down at the cost of thousands of lives.

Sixty years later the "2-28 Incident" remains a sensitive subject for many Taiwanese, and a source of acrimony between President Chen Shui-bian's ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Nationalist opposition.

Many DPP supporters are descendants of people who came to Taiwan in the 17th and 18th centuries from mainland China, and whose relatives were the principal victims of the 2-28 incident.

By contrast, core Nationalist backers tend to be the offspring of mainlanders who accompanied the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to the island in 1949 after the Nationalists lost power to Mao Zedong's Communists.

A 1992 government report - written when the Nationalists were still in power - said Nationalist troops killed and imprisoned thousands of Taiwanese - including many of the island's elite - on the pretext that they were communists or saboteurs.

On Monday Chen said a recent book based on declassified Nationalist documents proved that Chiang bore direct responsibility for the 2-28 Incident, and promised to strike his name from an elaborate Taipei memorial to his 30-year stewardship of Taiwan.

That stewardship ended with his death in 1975, but was passed to his son Chiang Ching-kuo until his own death 1988, the AP says.

Chen's condemnation of the elder Chiang drew an angry response from Nationalist lawmakers, who accused him of seeking to use the 2-28 incident to help the DPP in the run-up to legislative elections this December and presidential polls in March 2008.

His promise to change the character of the Chiang memorial followed a number of steps he has taken over the past year to emphasize the divide between local Taiwanese and Taiwanese mainlanders.

These include removing Chiang's name from Taiwan's principal international airport, dismantling hundreds of Chiang statues at military bases throughout the island, and substituting the name "Taiwan" for "China" at the post office and two large government-owned companies.

The moves were condemned by the Nationalists, who continue to pay homage to Chiang's memory, and support eventual unification between Taiwan and China, rather than the formalization of Taiwan's de facto independence that is advocated by Chen.

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