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Taiwan's defence minister resigns
Publication Date : 30-07-2013
Taiwan's defence minister has stepped down following weeks of public outrage over the death of a conscript who was made to undergo overly harsh physical training.
The departure of Kao Hua-chu, who will be replaced by his civilian deputy Andrew Yang, was announced by Premier Jiang Yi-huah yesterday as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle. It comes as President Ma Ying-jeou tries to shore up his low approval ratings of under 20 per cent.
Kao apologised on July 15 for the death of corporal Hung Chung-chiu and also offered to step down but Ma refused to accept his resignation at the time.
Yang, 58, is a sociologist by training and has promised to improve human rights in the military.
Also leaving the cabinet is chief financial regulator Chen Yuh-chang, who has been criticised for being too conservative on e-commerce development and the liberalisation of cross-strait banking. His successor is deputy economic affairs minister Tseng Ming-chung. The other five redesignations are for the Veterans Affairs Commission, the Public Construction Commission and the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission.
Without mentioning specific reasons for the appointments, Jiang said at a press conference that the list was decided by Ma and himself for the benefit of "overall policymaking".
Kao, a retired general, would have marked four years at the helm of the Defence Ministry on Sept 10, one of the longest tenures by a Taiwanese defence chief.
He was appointed by the Ma administration in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon disaster in Taiwan in 2009, which claimed more than 600 lives. Under Kao, the armed forces have become well-mobilised for typhoons that hit the island every year. The 66-year-old also oversaw ongoing efforts to transform the military from a conscription-based to a professional force.
Kao was the first high-ranking defence official to formally apologise for the death of Hung on July 4. The 23-year-old was two days away from completing his mandatory military service.
Hung was put in solitary confinement on June 28 after being caught bringing a camera phone into camp. On July 3, he was made to do sit-ups, push-ups and other exercises under the hot sun. A day later, he collapsed and died from heat stroke. He had been scheduled to begin graduate studies in traffic management in September.
Kao's apology and the detention of four officers on abuse charges failed to appease the Hung family, who accused the army of a cover-up and said Ma must shoulder the "ultimate responsibility".
Saturation coverage by Taiwanese media further fanned the outrage, reminiscent of that following the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine coast guard in May. That incident resulted in a standoff between the two governments.
About 30,000 protesters, most of them young men and parents, marched to the Defence Ministry in Taipei on July 20. Another rally is being planned for Saturday, the eve of Hung's funeral.
Ma apologised to the public last week as commander-in-chief and also ordered civilian prosecutors under the Justice Ministry to conduct a joint probe with the Defence Ministry.