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Cheers, jeers as Taiwan dismantles Chiang characters

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan officials set to work removing man-sized Chinese characters from a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek on Friday, eliciting cheers and jeers after a four-day standoff in central Taipei that saw protesters clash with police.

Slideshow ( 5 images )

Nearly every major city in Taiwan has streets named after the late strongman ruler, but the present government has embarked on a campaign to erase his ever-present image, including renaming Chiang Kai-shek International Airport and removing his statues from public places.

The Education Ministry sent workers on Friday to remove words that have crowned a main gate to the Democracy Memorial Hall, a recently renamed monument built 27 years ago to honor Chiang.

The change advances the government’s cause of closing what it calls a repressive chapter in Taiwan history.

“Taiwan is not in Chiang Kai-shek’s martial law era any more,” the cabinet spokesman said on Friday. “Changing the words to ‘Liberty Square’ is the best result for all of Taiwan society.”

Hundreds of reporters, activists and police have gathered this week outside the monument, known until earlier this year as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, to watch officials prepare to remove the words from the giant gate on a busy Taipei street.

Supporters of the name change drank wine to celebrate as ladder trucks began to dismantle the characters. Opponents sat in front of the venue with banners of slogan-festooned clothing.

“It’s a dictator’s name and we shouldn’t have that kind of government, but this is also a landmark and you shouldn’t dismantle it,” said demonstrator Kuo Lai-dean.

After ruling all of China in the 1930s and 1940s, Chiang and his Nationalist Party (KMT) officials fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the mainland to Mao Zedong’s communist armies.

Chiang kept an iron grip on the island until his death in 1975, and the KMT continued to rule until 2000.

This week’s clashes come a month before crucial parliamentary elections pitting the KMT against the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb