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Taiwan president shot wounded before elections

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Taiwan markets jittery after president shot
Reuters, 03.19.04, 7:23 AM ET

TAIPEI, March 19 (Reuters) - Taiwan market players were nervous an unprecedented attack on President Chen Shui-bian on Friday on the eve of a presidential election could lead to street violence and have an impact when trading resumes on Monday.

Stock markets had closed for the week when Chen and Vice President Annette Lu were shot and wounded while campaigning in southern Taiwan.

The Taiwan dollar dipped 0.2 percent on the shooting but ended domestic trade only slightly weaker on the day, with dealers citing intervention by the central bank to contain the fall.

"The market's sense of anxiety is heavy, although everyone has covered their U.S. dollar short positions. After the elections, we must wait for any possible violence to see the market reaction," said Shih Cheng-Sheng, a currency trader at Chang Hwa Bank <2801.TW>.

The central bank said in a statement after the close of trade that it would maintain order in the foreign exchange market if any irregular factors made the exchange rate too volatile.

The presidential election is set for Saturday and many analysts say the opposition Nationalist Party contender Lien Chan may have an edge in the closely fought race.

"The market will be focused on the political and social implications from this," Shih said.

Officials voiced worries that hardcore supporters of the 54-year-old president and leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might cause violence with just hours to go before the polls open.

"The president has called for calm," Chen's chief of staff, Chiou I-jen told a news conference, adding that neither the president nor his running mate were in critical condition.

"It is kind of scary; we have never had this kind of event. It is definitely a negative," said Grace Yao, who manages US$50 million at JF Asset Management in Taipei.

"If there is violence on the streets, that would be the worse thing."

The local currency ended at T$33.253 per dollar, slightly weaker than Thursday's close of T$33.228 per dollar.

Turnover on Taipei's foreign exchange market rose to US$1.22 billion, up more than half from Thursday's US$759 million tally.

"If President Chen wins the election because of winning over moderate voters after the incident, the stock market will be less volatile," said Tu Jin-lung, president of Grand Cathay Investment Services, who has some US$40 million under management.

"But if Chen loses, supporters of the ruling DPP may take drastic action that will severely hurt the market," said Tu.

Grand Cathay had previously expected a Lien Chan victory that would lead to a brief celebration rally, with the main TAIEX index <.TWII> seen testing 7,000 points.

Tu said the market, which closed on Friday up 0.4 percent at 6,815.09 points, could instead drop to 6,200.

Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service

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