Today's Papers

Tied in Taiwan?

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times lead with news that Taiwan’s president was narrowly re-elected by two-tenths of a percentage point Saturday, one day after he and his vice president were wounded slightly in an apparent assassination attempt. The defeated opposition party is demanding a recount and alleging that the election-eve shooting may have been staged in order to drum up last-minute sympathy for the president, who had been trailing in recent polls.

Barely a week after climactic pre-election events may have helped turn the tide in Spain’s election, the Taiwanese candidates are separated by just 30,000 of the 13 million votes cast. President Chen Shui-bian claimed victory and called for unity, insisting that the vote was legitimate. Responding to complaints from Chen’s opponent, Lien Chan, Taiwan’s high court has ordered ballot boxes sealed and has given the opposition party 15 days to produce evidence of irregularities.

At the heart of the dispute are 340,000 ballots that were deemed invalid—about twice as many as in the last election, according to the WP—and although the opposition argued that such a high number signaled wrongdoing, the papers offer an alternate explanation: A coalition of nonprofit groups had asked voters to deface their ballots as a protest against the major parties’ focus on foreign policy at the expense of domestic affairs.

Although critics have offered little concrete proof that the assassination attempt was faked, events surrounding the shooting are curious indeed. Traveling in an open-air motorcade as roadside well-wishers set off firecrackers, President Chen reportedly took a while to notice his wounds, which were said to be very shallow and caused by a “homemade” bullet. No one in his security detail reported hearing shots, and according to the NYT, shell casings were found only after the police car under which they had apparently rolled drove away from the scene. (Police say they don’t have any suspects at the moment.) An opposition official quoted in the WP accused Chen of having previously feigned injury in pursuit of political gain, when he appeared at an election-eve rally 14 years ago hooked up to an IV, claiming to have been poisoned by his opponents.

Turning to visions of the razor-thin margins to come, the papers go inside with reports from Florida, where President Bush addressed
his first non-fundraising campaign event of the election season. “Clearly pumped up,” Bush repeated claims that John Kerry has voted to raise taxes more than 350 times over the course of his career—a figure, the WP notes, that craftily includes votes against proposed tax cuts as well. Kerry, meanwhile, is still on vacation in Idaho, as worried Democrats fret openly to the NYT that he’s picked precisely the wrong time to take a breather from the campaign trail. (In other political news, the WP fronts word of stepped-up voter-registration and -education drives being planned by private companies for their employees. While officially nonpartisan, the efforts will likely turn out a surplus of pro-business GOP voters in the fall.)

As everybody reports, protestors marched in hundreds of cities around the world Saturday in observance of the one-year anniversary of the Iraq war. The biggest U.S. demonstration was held in Manhattan, where police estimated that 33,000 people took to the streets. (Organizers claimed more than 100,000.) Hundreds of thousands also marched in Rome, and activists in London draped an antiwar banner across the face of Big Ben. The NYT’s Op-Ed page commemorates the anniversary by printing another installment in its occasional series of letters sent home by G.I.’s killed in Iraq. ( Early-morning wires report that two U.S. soldiers were killed in a rocket attack near Falluja late Saturday.)

Everyone goes inside with word that
six U.S. M.P.’s have been charged with physically assaulting and sexually abusing Iraqi detainees at a prison outside Baghdad. The soldiers, whose names and ranks are being withheld for now, will next face hearings to determine if they should be court-martialed. Eleven other G.I.’s remain suspended pending further investigations of abuse.

In response to criticism from former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. intel officials led an NYT reporter and photographer on a tour of the closely guarded facility. Officials deny any abuse, although the paper points out that the base’s intense secrecy makes it tricky to fully evaluate the claims of either side. Among the limited revelations from the visit: uncooperative prisoners are dealt with by a seven-man “Immediate Reaction Force” whose operations are routinely videotaped and have been occasionally judged excessive by military officials.

Everybody checks up on the ongoing battle between 7,000 Pakistani soldiers and a few hundred Islamic militants in tribal areas near the Afghan border. Pakistani military officials continue to backpedal from their earlier hints that they had surrounded Osama Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, offering instead that the dead-enders might be protecting a prominent Uzbek fighter, a local tribal leader, or someone else entirely. As many as 34 Pakistani soldiers and 26 militants have been killed in the fighting so far. ( A CIA veteran writes in the NYT’s “Week in Review” section that when it happens, the capture or killing of al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden probably won’t affect al-Qaida’s operational capability very much and will likely only enhance the AQ leaders’ prestige in the eyes of their followers.)

The NYT and WP front word that a Methodist court in Washington state acquitted a pastor of charges that she violated church law by living openly as a lesbian.

And the NYT’s “Sunday Styles” section takes a look at an intriguing sub-subculture now coming out of the woodwork: conservative punks, who opt for red-state values regardless of the color of their hair. The former frontman of the Misfits, now an online political columnist, maintains that conservatism can be pretty punk-rock after all: “I look like someone who should be hanging out with Marilyn Manson—in fact I have hung out with Marilyn Manson. It doesn’t affect what my morals are.”