Sun, Nov 24, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Taipei sees biggest demo ever

GRIEVANCES Some 120,000 farmers and fishermen marched through the streets of the capital yesterday to raise government awareness of their growing problems

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tens of thousands of farmers and fishermen pour into Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei yesterday in the biggest demonstration in Taiwan's history.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Led by an effigy of the god of agriculture, more than 120,000 farmers and fishermen from all over Taiwan yesterday peacefully marched through the streets of Taipei urging the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration to pay attention to their economic plight which has been adversely affected by Taiwan's WTO entry.

The number of demonstrators was a record for a street protest in Taiwan.

The protesters, brought to the capital by over 2,000 tour buses, assembled at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in the morning and at 2pm started their march through downtown streets to the square in front of the Presidential Office. The demonstration peacefully dispersed at 5pm.

Wearing the bamboo-leaf sun hats characteristic of Taiwan farmers and waving banners with slogans such as "Agriculture is the foundation of the country" and "Agriculture industry dies, the country dies," demonstrators said that they wanted to show how effective the farmers' and fishermen's strength could be.

"Prices of more than 200 kinds of vegetables and fruit in the market have decreased at least 50 percent, after Taiwan's entrance to the WTO. The government isn't helping us solve the problems, but is instead implementing inappropriate financial reforms," said a senior official of a Tainan County farmers' association, who only gave his surname, Chen.

To show their support for farmers and fishermen, KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), accompanied by their legislators, also showed up at the march.

After the demonstration, representatives of the the farmers' and fishermen's associations' umbrella organization, Taiwan Agro-Fighters United (TAFU), announced that they were satisfied with the demonstration's results, that the government heard farmers' and fishermen's demands, and also said that no officials needed to resign over the incident.

The Ministry of Finance announced the implementation of its tough three-tier control mechanism in September to regulate lending by credit units of farmers' and fishermen's associations which, those associations said, would destroy them.

Su Pi-hwa (蘇碧華), a Tainan County farmers' association employees, explained that banking was the only way for the farmers' and fishermen's associations' credit units to make money to finance their other operations.

"We are afraid that the credit units would be totally destroyed under the [finance ministry's] mechanism," she said.

The credit units, handing over 60 percent of their profits for the associations' operations, have been considered as the heart of the associations.

Ignoring farmers and fishermen's complaints about the reforms, the MOF's mechanism led to an explosion of frustration with the government's agricultural policies.

Liao Hsueh-pi (廖學必), a 69-year-old fruit farmer from Pingtung, complained that the price he was getting for his fruit was at an all-time low and that he could only survive with a loan from his local farmers' association, which he doubted he could get were the association taken over by a commercial bank.

Created during Japanese colonial rule, the 304 farmers' associations and 40 fishermen's associations provide a wide range of services, both technological and financial, for the two groups whose incomes lag behind the national average by 30 percent.

Government statistics show that as of the end of this June, 21 percent of the 285 credit departments' loans could be classified as non-performing.

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