Taiwanese shun pro-China rally

Taipei (Reuters) - On Saturday, 70,000 Taiwanese braved downpours to stage a rally asserting their island's independence from China prior to Peking's reabsorption of Hong Kong.

Yesterday, supporters of Taiwan-China reunification held a rally intending to counterbalance Saturday's throng. About 100 people turned up.

Rebuffing the call by Saturday's protesters to prevent Taiwan from being gobbled up by China, yesterday's demonstrators hailed Hong Kong's impending handover and urged eventual reunification for China and Taiwan.

"Hong Kong's handover is something that all Chinese people should celebrate," Lee Chih-jen, organiser of Taiwan's Chinese Nation United Front which staged the march, told the scattering of supporters.

"We are here to counterbalance the rally from Saturday, because otherwise the international world would believe that all the people in Taiwan support Taiwan independence," Mr Lee said.

While Saturday's march included prominent members of opposition parties and a US ex-congressman, yesterday's march was shunned even by leaders of Taiwan's largest pro-unification party, the New Party.

Whatever their stand on independence, Taiwan political groups universally reject what Peking regards as a generous offer - reunion under the "one country, two systems" model of local autonomy that underlies Hong Kong's handover.

Peking, which has seen Nationalist-ruled Taiwan as a rebel province since a 1949 civil war split, vows to attack if Taipei stops advocating reunion and pursues independence.