TAIPEI A group of activists drowned out a speech by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday with taunts, as both sides turned out to mark the sensitive anniversary of an event sparked by the ruling party's once iron grip on the island.
About 25 activists repeatedly shouted "step down" and "Ma isn't a president" at a park in the southern city of Kaohsiung, rendering inaudible a conciliatory speech about the Feb. 28 incident in 1947 for which Ma has recently blamed his own Nationalist Party (KMT)'s former strongman Chiang Kai-shek.
Feb. 28 refers to the day when a Taipei street dispute over the state's cigarette monopoly led to a chain of protests against Nationalist rule. As many as 20,000 people were killed in an ensuing crackdown.
Chiang's KMT, which once ruled all of China, fled to Taiwan in the 1940s after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists. The KMT ruled the island single-handedly until democratisation in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Ma still worships Chiang Kai-shek," said Lo Chih-cheng, secretary-general of the activist group Taiwan Society, citing his restoration of Chiang's name to a memorial hall.
"The protest isn't so much about Feb. 28 as about other things Ma has done."
Elsewhere around the island on Saturday, about 1,000 protesters who link Ma with Chiang -- who died in 1975 -- formed the words "Don't forget 2-2-8" on a public plaza in Taipei, while aboriginals opposed to KMT policies sent up smoke signals in 30 villages.
In his eight-minute speech Ma urged groups in politically divided Taiwan, where people whose ancestors predated the KMT's arrival still oppose the party, to get along. He also said he would fund a Feb. 28 incident foundation.
"He thinks the Feb. 28 incident was an important incident for people in Taiwan," Wang said. "You need to face history, but groups in society also need to get along together."
About T$300 million ($8.6 million) per year will go to the 228 Memorial Foundation, which the government set up in 1995 to compensate victims of the incident, Wang said.