TAIPEI, Mar 20 (AP) -- Statues of late leader Chiang Kai-shek will be removed from Taiwan's military bases, an official said Monday, denying that the measure was instigated by the island's president -- a bitter rival of Chiang's Nationalist party.
Chiang retreated to Taiwan after his Nationalist military forces were defeated in a civil war by Mao Zedong's communists in 1949. He held a tight, authoritarian grip on power in Taiwan until his death in 1975, and his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo only ended martial law shortly before his own death in 1988.
The families of many Nationalists who fled communist rule still revere Chiang, but he is widely reviled by President Chen Shui-bian's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which accuses Chiang of harshly repressing the descendants of settlers who had left China centuries earlier and had few ties with the mainland.
Vice Minister of Defense Ko Chen-heng said the decision to remove as many as 1,000 of the statues was made to save them from wear and tear by the elements.
"There's been erosion and damage of the bronze statues, and this is not the way to commemorate a saint or a great man," Ko said.
He denied a report in Monday's United Daily News that Chen issued the order to remove the statues, but acknowledged there were no immediate plans to display them in alternate indoor locations.
Chen's deputy secretary-general confirmed there was an order to remove the statues, but did not say if the president was behind it.
"The military should move ahead with the times," said Cho Jung-tai. "Personality cults are outdated, and some partial adjustments are needed."
While Chiang was alive, his Nationalist followers officially claimed they were China's legitimate government and officially held out the hope of eventually regaining control of the mainland.
Such sentiments gradually diminished after Chiang's rule, but many Nationalists still support future unification with China, whose leaders consider Taiwan to be Chinese territory.
Chen and most of his followers, however, support making the self-governing island officially independent -- a move that Beijing has repeatedly threatened would provoke war.