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Freedom House calls for investigation

PROTESTS: The Presidential Office said setting up an independent commission to probe police action during the clashes would be a violation of the Constitution

By Loa Iok-sin
Saturday, Nov 22, 2008, Page 1

The US-based Freedom House on Thursday called on the Taiwanese government to set up an independent commission to investigate the clashes between police and demonstrators protesting against the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) earlier this month.

Chen, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, visited the country from Nov. 3 to Nov. 7 to sign four agreements with his Taiwanese counterpart, Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), aimed at strengthening cross-strait ties.


Concerned that the agreements would compromise Taiwan's sovereignty and angry about the increased security measures to protect Chen and his delegation, large crowds of demonstrators took to the streets several times during Chen's stay. Several of the demonstrations ended in violent clashes.

“During Chen's visit, police reportedly used heavy-handed tactics — including physical assault, arbitrary detention and destruction of property — to prevent Chen from seeing symbols of Taiwanese or Tibetan independence, as well as broader demonstrations against the Chinese regime,” Freedom House said in a statement. “Demonstrators also employed violence against police, throwing rocks and petrol bombs outside Chen's hotel on Nov. 6.”

“A public investigation of the violence — which involved both sides — will send a critical message that the new government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is interested in upholding the democratic values of transparency and accountability,” Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor said in the statement. “The inquiry should examine evidence on both sides and recommend any needed reforms to police practices and the legal framework governing demonstrations.”

The human rights watchdog echoed the rising calls from civic groups and college students staging a sit-in demonstration in several cities across the country to revise the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法), saying the commission “should examine controversial passages in [the] law, such as restrictions on where people are allowed to demonstrate, and determine whether they need to be liberalized to protect citizens' rights to freedom of expression and assembly” and “investigate claims that police are selectively enforcing the law.”


It also suggested that to prevent similar violent clashes, the police should “undergo crowd control training that adheres to the standards used in other democracies” and that the government should renew its commitment to tolerate freedom of assembly and peaceful protests.

When asked to comment, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that creating an independent investigation commission would violate the Constitution's definition of the system of government.

“Of course the police can be examined, but according to the Constitution, it should be done by the Control Yuan,” Wang told the Taipei Times via telephone. “We don't need and are not supposed to create an independent investigation mechanism outside the regular governmental system.”



Masseurs protest court ruling

JOB FEARS: The visually impaired workers rallied to demand the government not amend a law that stipulates that they are the nation's only legal masseurs

By Loa Iok-sin

Saturday, Nov 22, 2008, Page 2

Visually impaired masseurs protest at Liberty Square in Taipei yesterday, calling on the government to protect their right to employment.


Around 1,500 visually impaired masseurs from all over the nation took to the streets yesterday, protesting a Council of Grand Justice decision overturning a rule that made them the only legal masseurs.

“Massage is one of the few jobs that a visually impaired person can do well. But in recent years, their jobs have been threatened because of the growing number of illegal massage centers that employ masseurs with no visual impairment,” Sun Yi-hsin (孫一信), a long-time activist for the rights of the physically challenged, told the demonstrators at Liberty Square in Taipei before they began their march to the Ministry of the Interior.

Figures released by the National Federation of Masseurs’ Unions showed that more than 5,000 visually impaired people — representing 70 percent of all visually impaired people on the job market — are currently working in the massage industry.

“Instead of lending a helping hand to the visually impaired masseurs, the government is making the situation worse by planning to allow non-visually impaired masseurs into the market,” Sun said.

An article in the Rights and Interests of the Handicapped Protection Law (身心障礙者權益保障法) stipulates that “non-visually impaired persons may not work as masseurs.”

However, a constitutional interpretation issued by the Council of Grand Justices last month declared the clause unconstitutional as it violates equal rights in employment as protected by the Constitution. The Council then urged that the article be removed within three years.

That decision has worried the visually impaired masseurs.

Lee Cheng-chia (李政家), a 54-year-old visually impaired masseur, joined the march out of fear of more competition in the marketplace.

“I’m the only wage-earner in my family — my wife has just been laid off from a factory, two of my sons have just graduated from college and are looking for jobs, while my youngest son is still serving in the military,” Lee said.

He recalled that he used to be able to make between NT$50,000 and NT$60,000 a month as a masseur.

But since the illegal massage centers grew in number about five or six years ago, “I’m making less than NT$20,000 a month now.”

Once the legal barrier is lifted for the non-visually impaired to enter the industry, “things will only get worse,” Lee said.

Some of the visually impaired masseurs have tried other jobs, but failed.

“I majored in social works at National Taipei University of Education and I am a certified social worker,” said Chang Tung-fa (張東發), who suffers from a detached retina and is partially blind.

Chang had worked as a social worker at a charity organization for years, but problems with reading made him decide to quit.

“I can only read words at font size 70 on a computer screen. And when it comes to reading printed documents, I had to ask for help from my colleagues,” he said.

Prior to getting a college degree, Chang had also worked at his father’s auto repair shop, “but I cut my little finger once when operating a machine, because I couldn’t see clearly.”

“My eyesight is getting worse as I grow older, so I decided that I’d find a more stable, workable job, and thus I became a masseur,” he said.

After receiving representatives of the protesters, Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Join-sane (林中森) said the ministry would set up a special task force within a week to come up with solutions to help the visually impaired masseurs.

Meanwhile, lawmakers across party lines, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Shyu Jong-shyoung (徐中雄) and Democratic Progressive Party legislators Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) and Yu Jan-daw (余政道), also promised to ask the Council of Grand Justices to take another look at the interpretation.



Legislature sends agreements for review

By Shih Hsiu-chuan
Saturday, Nov 22, 2008, Page 3

Democratic Progressive Party legislators hold up signs and protest at the legislature yesterday against the four agreements signed earlier this month by Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin.



The legislature yesterday voted to send the four cross-strait agreements signed by the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and other Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-proposed amendments aimed at enhancing cross-strait ties to a preliminary review stage.

Yesterday’s move will not assure a smooth passage for the bills, however, as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus said that it was considering freezing the referral by proposing a motion to reconsider the bills.

In accordance with legislative procedure, a motion of reconsideration on yesterday’s vote is permissible before Dec. 1.

DPP legislative caucus whip William Lai (賴清德) said that the caucus would try to freeze the amendments to the Statute Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例), but not the four new cross-strait agreements.

Stalling the four agreements in a procedural way would not help block their passage as the KMT could cite Article 95 of the Statute.

This states that the four agreements would automatically take effect 30 days after the legislature received them from the Executive Yuan, Lai said.

During yesterday’s session, the DPP failed to win a vote asking the Executive Yuan to send agreement-related amendments to the Commercial Port Act (商港法); the Statute Governing Relations Between Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area; the Income Tax Law (所得稅法) and the Value-Added and Non Value-Added Business Tax Act (加值型與非加值型營業稅法) to the legislature for deliberation along with the agreements.

“We will continue to raise the demand when the agreements are reviewed at the committee stage,” Lai said.

DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) said that the party was opposed any further opening to China under the framework of the four agreements.

Pan said that it would negatively affect the country’s economy and damage Taiwan’s sovereignty.

KMT legislative caucus whip Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) lashed out at the DPP caucus for what he called its “irrational” objections to all amendments to the cross-strait statutes.

“One of the amendments was designed to bring more Taiwanese capital back for investment in Taiwan. The DPP should tell the public why it opposed such an initiative,” Lo said.





The KMT’s fate is suicide

Saturday, Nov 22, 2008, Page 8

In a time of political hunger strikes, student protests and fiscal madness in the guise of universal consumer vouchers, news must be spectacular to get airplay. One story that received very little this week was an item on the restructuring of the Central Standing Committee of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

In a throwback to closer party-state ties, the KMT has announced that its highest decision-making body will now include seats for “five top Cabinet members.” The reason given for this change — and said with a straight face — was to “enhance cooperation” between the party and the government.

In an unstable system such as Taiwan’s, which juggles presidential, executive and legislative authority and which is prone to predatory behavior, the move represents party encroachment on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) authority over the Cabinet, the increasing influence of KMT headquarters and Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and a blow to Ma’s agenda to make the Central Standing Committee more accountable to grassroots members.

The dispatching of former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) to the APEC leaders’ meeting in Lima, Peru, is another example of party headquarters muscling in on the affairs of the executive. Sadly for Ma, and hilariously for Lien, the Chinese have drawn a line at giving any more face to its friends in Taiwan by refusing the delegation access to an informal meeting of foreign ministers and pedantically correcting a journalist’s use of “President Ma.”

It is instructive that Taiwan’s officials should be treated this way while in a position of relative strength vis a vis China. The problem is that in tolerating this, the KMT administration loses control of its credibility as a national government.

The KMT cannot be trusted to defend even basic symbols of nationhood such as the flag and the anthem. Ma, for one, warmed up as Taipei mayor by agreeing to prohibit the display of Republic of China imagery at international sports events in the city. He has fine-tuned this skill to now include rationalization of behavior by security forces attacking people carrying national symbols.

As cumbersome and risible as the DPP can be, the party has an agenda that is consistent with the enduring global environment of nation-states. Its aspirations are much closer to what is in the interests of all Taiwanese — regardless of political color — even if its leaders at times seem to have no idea why.

The KMT’s actions this week again suggest that it will not change its philosophy of power and will not respect the separation of powers — be they legislative, executive, judicial, examination, oversight or partisan political organizations. And while the KMT retains a preference for strongman structures, it has a weak man as president. Yet the KMT cannot possibly run the state as a triumvirate of Ma, Wu and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) because each considers himself the primary force for the party.

Like the Chinese Communist Party, all that is left for the KMT is its ability to run a tight fiscal ship. When that is gone, the KMT will have neither the aptitude nor the support to resort to violence to prevent DPP presidential or legislative election victories. If it tries to do so, its only supporter would be Beijing. The fundamental anti-Americanism of the KMT would become part of its daily armor as the US realizes, all too late, that not only is the KMT a “sonofabitch,” but also that it was never theirs to begin with.

Isolated by civilized nations and smarting from more humiliation, the KMT would turn to China — and die.

Suicide is the KMT’s fate. The question is which road it will take and whether it will have the tactical sense to give birth to a new political movement that gives Taiwanese a genuine political choice.


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