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Taiwan urges reconciliation as China butts in on memorial

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s president urged truthful reconciliation on Tuesday on the 70th anniversary of an uprising against Nationalist troops that has galvanised independence supporters, an event China is seeking to co-opt to oppose independence.

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The “228 Incident”, as it is known in Taiwan, has in recent years become a rallying point for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favours formal independence for the democratic, self-ruled island China claims at its own.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist troops put down rioting sparked on Feb. 28, 1947, by a dispute between tobacco agents and a cigarette vendor in Taipei.

That led to island-wide protests against the Nationalists, who two years later took refuge on Taiwan after losing a civil war to the Communists and imposed martial law on Taiwan until 1987, ruling with an iron fist and locking up dissidents.

“Reconciliation must be built on truth,” President Tsai Ing-wen said at an annual ceremony commemorating the incident with families of victims. “I must say that without the truth, the past will not stay in the past.

“When that day comes, we will metamorphose into another kind of nation. Taiwan’s democracy will also take a further step forward,” she said.

The incident ushered in a period where tens of thousands of Taiwanese were killed or went missing and stirred the beginnings of Taiwan’s democratic movement.

Communist China, which had nothing to do with the 1947 incident, has been marking the anniversary too, with seminars and state media commentaries.

The Chinese government last week called the protests part of China’s liberation struggle Taiwan independence forces were trying to hijack.

On Tuesday, the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said the day should be marked by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait joining hands to opposed Taiwan independence.

“This is the best way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of 228, and the greatest comfort that can be offered to the valiant heroes of the 228 uprising,” it said in a front page commentary.

Beijing has previously weighed in on the anniversary, but this year is the first since Tsai took office in May.

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who it suspects of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.

Taiwan has largely brushed off China’s comments on the anniversary this year.

Last week, Taiwan’s China policymaker, the Mainland Affairs Council, called on Beijing to be fair and objective in looking at history and have a correct understanding of the nature of the day.

Additional reporting and editing by Ben Blanchard in Beijing