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Taiwan 'prophet' unfazed by apocalypse no-show

11 may 2011, 17:36
0
Wang Chao-hung, better known to his followers and the public as "Teacher Wang". AFP PHOTO / Sam YEH©
Wang Chao-hung, better known to his followers and the public as "Teacher Wang". AFP PHOTO / Sam YEH©
A self-styled Taiwanese "prophet" was unfazed Wednesday when a 14-magnitude earthquake he had predicted failed to materialise, saying he would stay in his makeshift shelter, AFP reports.

"I'm not leaving," said Wang Chao-hung, better known to his followers and the public as "Teacher Wang", seconds after the moment of the alleged quake -- 10:42:37 am (0242 GMT) -- passed without incident.

"The earthquake will hit before the end of today. You'll see," the bearded 54-year-old said, standing inside a compound of converted cargo containers, which he claimed would offer the best protection.

What appeared to be a small number of followers had turned up at the compound, one of two set up in central Taiwan's Puli town in recent days, but a much larger crowd was gathered outside consisting of onlookers and journalists.

"Three, two, one!" a group of young men yelled as the last seconds of the countdown passed, and then started chanting mockingly: "Teacher Wang! Teacher Wang!"

Wang's "prediction" had triggered a wave of interest from a mostly nonplussed Taiwanese public, and several 24-hour news channels reported live from the scene Wednesday morning.

Liao Ta-yi, a garden designer, angrily accused Wang of fraud, alleging that Wang had been trying to cheat money from gullible followers.

"The cement base of the shelter is unlikely to resist anything like a 14-magnitude earthquake," he said.

A 14-magnitude quake would be 100,000 times the size of the March 11 9.0 earthquake which unleashed a monster tsunami that devastated large swathes of Japan's northeast, leaving 27,000 dead or missing.

"I didn't believe Wang at all," said an elderly woman. "But then again, I'm happy his prediction didn't come true."

Wang later appeared to be backtracking, suggesting that his statements had been misinterpreted by journalists.

"When did I lie? I was just talking to some people here but the media exaggerated what I'd said, and I had nothing to do with it," he told reporters.

The scene remained mostly peaceful as of early afternoon Wednesday, with local police deploying around 40 officers.

However, there were scattered reports of followers venting anger at journalists.

A television reporter told AFP a man had attempted to attack her when she tried to take pictures while standing outside a second compound, which Wang said had been set up without his involvement.

"We urge the public to remember this lesson and not to listen, believe, spread and discuss rumours," said Kuo Kai-wen, head of central weather bureau's seismology centre.

Even interior minister Jiang Yi-huah commented on the incident, warning Wang that "the local government will continue to keep an eye on him".

Investigators are looking into the theory that Wang might be cooperating with businesses in the container industry, a charge he has flatly denied.

The local prosecutor's office urged the public to come forward to file formal compliant against Wang if they felt that they were conned by his false prediction.

Fraud convictions carry a maximum five-year jail term while breaking the law on social order is punished by a fine of up to Tw$30,000 ($1,000), prosecutors say.

A weather bureau spokesman has said that issuing unauthorised forecasts on earthquakes is punishable by a fine of up to Tw$1 million.


By Benjamin Yeh

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