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3-19 shooting incident

From Academic Kids

On March 19 2004, the day before the Republic of China presidential election, President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu were both shot while campaigning in Tainan, in what then appeared to be a political assassination attempt.

Their injuries were not life-threatening, and both Chen and Lu were released from Chi-Mei Hospital on the same day without losing consciousness or having surgery. Nevertheless, the attack provoked shock and unease in Taiwan, where political violence of this kind is virtually unheard in recent times. The incident has earned Chen and Lu sympathy votes, helping to win them the election on the next day by a mere 29,500 votes. No hard evidence was found to exclude the possibilities that the assassination attempt was either staged or faked to influence an election that formerly appeared to tip in favor of the Pan-Blue Coalition.

Contents

Sequence of events

President Chen and Vice President Lu were standing in the back seat of an open convertible jeep moving slowly through a crowded street. One bullet struck Chen's stomach and was later found in his clothes; Chen received a flesh wound 8 cm long and 2 cm deep (four inches long, an inch wide, and an inch deep). Another bullet grazed Lu's knee and was found in the jeep. At first both believed that they had been hit by firecrackers, which are common in Taiwanese political parades and rallies. Chen realized that it was something more serious when he noticed that he was bleeding from the stomach and that there was a bullet hole in the window.

At around 1:45 pm, Chen reported pain in his stomach, and Lu, in her knee. At 2:00 pm, they were both taken to the Chi-Mei Hospital. At 3:30 pm, the spokesperson for the president, Chiou I-Jen, announced that the "National Security Mechanism" has been activated. At 5:30 pm, both the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green coalitions announced that they would cease all scheduled campaigning activities. At 5:45 pm, the hospital announced that the president suffered a 11 cm long, 2 cm wide gash across his abdomen. At 6:00 pm, two shells were found on the campaign route where the apparent assassination attempt took place. At 9:00 pm, the president returned to his official residence. And finally at 11:00 pm, in a video released to the public, the president urged the Taiwanese people to remain calm and indicated that neither his health nor the security of Taiwan were threatened.

The next day's election was not postponed, as Taiwanese law only allows for suspension of election upon the death of a candidate. Chen's opponent, Lien Chan, and Lien's campaign manager Wang Jyng-ping tried to visit Chen on the night of the incident, but were unable to see the president because he was resting. Chen Shui-bian appeared in public the next day when he turned out to cast his vote.

Investigation

Within hours, police announced they were certain that the crime was not political, and that mainland China was not involved. On Internet chat rooms and talk radio, some Pan-Blue supporters theorized that the incident was faked in order for Chen to gain sympathy votes. These speculations were, however, considered highly offensive by Pan-Green supporters, and were not condoned by the Pan-Blue leadership until after Chen won the election.

Two bullet casings were found by a civilian under a police car after it was driven away. The two casings found suggested that only two shots were fired at the motorcade. Their assembly also suggested that they were fired from home-made guns. It is unclear as to whether they were fired from the same gun, or from different guns.

The police did not find or identify any suspect involved in the shooting. There were several people the police wanted to question based on erratic behavior, such as leaving the scene in a hurry, recorded by surveillance camera. A few had shown up when they recognized themselves on the broadcast, but these have proved to be inconclusive.

The bullet trajectory proposed by the police was that a bullet struck the windshield, entered Lu's knee, and then fell out. Another bullet fired from the jeep's side struck Chen's stomach and travelled through his jacket and stayed in the back until recovered by the hospital crew.

On March 29, three American forensic scientists arrived in Taiwan to help with the investigation. They were Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic expert, Michael Haag, an expert on bullet trajectory, and Timothy Palmbach, expert on crime scene integrity. Wecht personally examined Chen's belly and concluded it was consistent with a gunshot wound.

They were followed by Henry C. Lee on April 9. After examining the jeep, he deduced that the shots were fired from the outside because there were shards of glass on the jeep's floor. But due to the incompleteness of evidence preservation, and the lack of an accurate record on the jeep's speed at the day of procession, he points out that it might be impossible to determine from which direction the bullets entered the jeep.

Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien announced his resignation on April 4, and National Security Bureau director Tsai Chao-ming stepped down the week before to take responsibility for the shooting, keeping with Taiwanese tradition that government officials take responsibility for problems.

On August 24, 2004, the Legislative Yuan approved legislation setting up the "3-19 truth investigative commission" to probe the shooting. According to the number of seats they have in the current 5th Legislative Yuan, each party will appoint members for the new commission. The commission will have the right to interview government officials and demand documents, and will be asked to present its findings to the legislature infinitely without time constraint. As part of the law, no one is permitted to elect silence or to influence the commission's investigation. The commission is also authorized to command a government prosecuting attorney, to unilaterally utilize the disaster reserve funds from the Executive Yuan, and to override court verdicts. Because such a law was suspected unconstitutional, the Pan-Green Coalition opposed the commission. Some Taiwanese nationals actually referred the commission "3-19 truth in-the-making commission."

Dr. Henry C. Lee submitted a 130-page report and a CD containing 150 photos to Andrew Hsia, director general of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York on August 29, 2004 He concluded that the incident was not an assassination attempt because "a more powerful weapon than a homemade pistol would have been used." He was unable to make a conclusive report, but indicated his findings would help locate the gun and its factory.[1] (http://www.etaiwannews.com/Taiwan/2004/08/30/1093830899.htm)

On September 9, 2004, three men - Yeh Ho-chiang, 37, Chen Ching-hung, 33, and Huang Chin-shou, 43 - were arrested at an illegal weapons factory near Tainan possessing bullets matching those found at the crime scene.

On March 7, 2005, Taiwanese police held conference about the shooting incident. Two suspects are named, they are Chen, Yi-Hsuon and Huang, Hun-Ren. Both of them were dead in a short period of time following the 319 incident. Chen was living around the vicinity and looked very similar to one of the unknown person shown on police tapes in the hotzone (the yellow coat bold guy). The tape was released by the police on March 26, 2004, and Chen was found drowned at a harbor on March 28, exactly two days later. The connection of Chen and the weapon maker was established by confirming Chen being the 5th hand of a possible weapon, in addition family members of Chen stated that Chen left suicide notes, which according to Taiwanese police's interpretation hinted that he committed the crime, though the notes had been burned by the family, and the interpretation held by the police is at best teneuous. Additionally the family members were reported to have recalled strange behavior of Chen following the 319 shooting. On the other hand, Huang was also found suicide with a gun that was made from the same weapon maker after the incident, and the bullet found share traits with the one that hit the Vice-President.

Questions from Pan-Blue and counterclaims

  • Pan-Blue supporters argued that the wounds inflicted upon the President and Vice President were light and improbable, asking why Chen was hit in the abdomen instead of the head and how the bullets turned to hit the targets.
    • Henry C. Lee suggests that it was not a serious assassination attempt in which the assassin would usually aim for the head. Investigators have said that the gun was made in an illegal workshop. Many suggest that the shooting was done by a gangster who was connected to illegal gambling rings on the election and sought to injure Chen to influence certain bets. However, more than once during his election campaign, Chen himself visited a gangster in Tainan well known for profitting much from organizing such illigal gambling rings, presumbly to earn the gangster's support for his compaign. The shooting incident took place exactly in the region in which that gangster exerts great influence.
  • Pan-Blue supporters questioned the level of security, which they thought was surprisingly low: both the President and the Vice-President were both standing up from inside a roofless, unarmored jeep. They did not wear bulletproof vests and proceeded slowly on the congested two-way street. Pan-Green supporters said that this was to be expected as Taiwan has not had experienced political violence over the past decade and no assassination attempt against a President has been made before. Presidential candidates from both camps only wore bulletproof vest occasionally throughout their campaign.
    • This proves to be very serious aftershocks as the chief responsible for the safety resigned and several cabinet members requested resignation. It is reported that the guards were wearing earplugs because they could not stand the noise from firecrackers during the procession. However, this does not explain why they did not notice the bullet hole on the windshield.
  • The bodyguards did not notice the bullethole in the windshield immediately.
    • This is still being investigated.
  • The blood stain on the clothes raised some suspicion as it stained horizontally onto the stomach part of his thick jacket, whereas logically the blood stain should have trickled down his pants, not parallel through the jacket since he was standing up, not lying down.
    • This is debunked as a higher-resolution photo actually identified the purported blood-stain to be red safety belts of the jeep.
  • Pan-Blue supporters questioned why Chen was taken to the Chi-Mei Hospital, whose founder is a vocal supporter for the Pan-Green coalition, instead of the larger and closer (in distance) Tainan Hospital. Tainan locals countered that Chi-Mei Hospital is the best and quickest hospital to go in Tainan on that day, and that the director of Chi-Mei Hospital, Jan Chi-hsien, is an advisor to the Kuomintang Party. Also, Lee Ming-cha, a lawyer for the Kuomintang, was at the hospital to monitor preservation of evidence and found nothing unusual [2] (http://www.chinapost.com.tw/detail.asp?onNews=1&GRP=A&id=23329). Chi-Mei hospital was not on the list of hospitals designated to treat the President in case of emergencies.
    • The Pan-Green coalition countered by saying that it was indeed on an internal list not known to the public and that it was not on the official list because it lacked a helipad.
  • Pan-Blue supporters charged that the investigation of a Presidential assassination attempt was overly casual. The bullet casing was found by spectators under a police car when it was driven away more than three hours after the shooting.
    • Some pan-Green supporters would object that this claim does not stand as the Taiwanese police confirms the greatest progress yet on March 7, 2005.

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