TAIPEI: Taiwanese authorities have quietly deployed mobile anti-aircraft missile systems in the capital Taipei, according to newspaper reports on Monday, as police stepped up security ahead of the island's presidential polls.
Twelve units arrived in Taipei at the weekend with three heading to military police headquarters and the rest for other locations in and around the city, according to the United Evening News.
The missile units are part of Taiwan's comprehensive defensive system to prevent attack from rival China amid simmering tensions between the rivals before presidential polls on March 20.
The defense ministry has said it would step up security at key bases from March 19 to 21 “to prevent any attacks from abroad and domestic unrest”.
Military police confirmed Stinger missiles had been positioned at its headquarters but said they were put there in response to the September 11 attacks in the United States and had nothing to do with the presidential elections.
The defense ministry declined to comment but military expert Chang Li-te, of Defense Technology Monthly, said: “I have never heard of Stinger deployment in Taipei before.”
Taiwan also holds a referendum on March 20 which calls on voters to back government plans to strengthen its defences against about 500 Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan and to promote peace talks.
China has maintained its claim over Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 at the end of civil war, and has threatened to take the island by force if it declares independence. It has condemned the referendum which it considers a first step towards an eventual vote on severing all ties between the two sides.
A special police squad also went through their drills in front of the cameras on Monday in a show of strength to counter any threat of violence on polling day.
“We're confident in dealing with various kinds of situations before and after the election,” said Chang Shih-liang, chief of the National Police Administration.
The National Police Administration (NPA) said it was ready to deal with 27 different scenarios ranging from minor election disputes to a large scale riot.
Opposition legislators had warned of possible disturbances because of confusion caused by voters casting three ballots, one for president and two for the referendum.
The presidential election pits President Chen Shui-bian, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a close battle aginst Lien Chan of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).
The last presidential election in 2000 passed off peacefully when Chen snatched victory after 51 years of KMT rule over the island off China's southeast coast. Lien finished third, prompting a huge demonstration by angry supporters outside the party's headquarters.
At least 119,000 officers will be on duty when voters cast their ballots at 13,749 polling stations around the country on Saturday.