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New year to mark new era: Chen
Lin Chieh-yu

The nation's leaders yesterday celebrated with the public the beginning of the Lunar New Year, saying they expect all people and the country to be blessed in the Year of Monkey.

Following the precedent set by former president Lee Teng-hui, President Chen Shui-bian yesterday gave red envelopes symbolizing luck and good fortune to more than 10,000 people in his hometown, Chichuang, Tainan County.

Hsu Chong-hsin, a local resident who was the first one to receive a red envelope, said he waited at the site for two weeks to show his support for Chen.

Over 20,000 red envelopes, bearing the words "great year, good luck," displaying the image of a monkey and with a new NT$10 coin attached, were handed out by Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-chen.

The crowd yelled "A-bian elected" as the envelopes were being handed out.

Later, Chen attended a lunch banquet held by more than a thousand supporters, at which he pledged to carry out his referendum plan and urged people to defend the country's democracy and sovereignty.

"We must strengthen our belief that Taiwan cannot be annexed, Taiwan can never become any country's local government, like a second Hong Kong," Chen said.

"People of Hong Kong have to wait for anther 30 years to elect their administration chief, while Taiwan has enjoyed three presidential elections," Chen said. "The realization of the peace referendum on March 20, date of the presidential election, will create a new era for Taiwan, one that `one country, two systems' is not able to reach."

"The peace referendum is to demonstrate the voice of all 23 million Taiwanese people, which can't be replaced by the Legislative Yuan's resolution or any public poll. Taiwan's first ever referendum will help realize a peaceful framework for interaction for both sides of the Taiwan Strait," he said.

Chen said he expects people to understand that the referendum is designed to avoid war as well as to maintain the status quo.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislators welcomed the New Year by showing their respects to the party's spiritual leader, Lee. Lee said the upcoming presidential election is crucial to Taiwan's sovereignty.

"Former president Lee stressed that the major task of the TSU this year is to enhance the public's awareness of autonomy and to defend Taiwan's status quo as an independent country," TSU Legislator Chen Chien-ming said.

"People should understand that whether the new president can firmly defend Taiwan's sovereignty is the most important element when considering whom to vote for," Chen Chien-ming said.

Chen Shui-bian's opponent, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan, was visited famous temples yesterday to seek grassroots support as well as receive a blessing from gods to win the election.

"We pray to ancestors and gods to bless the country and people, and only the victory of the Lien-Soong ticket can bring a better future for Taiwan," Lien said, referring to his running mate, People First Party Chairman James Soong.

Lin Chieh-yu writes for Taipei Times.

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