Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 3 News List

SARS epidemic: Chen postpones diplomatic trip to Central America

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Due to tension over the impact of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Presidential Office yesterday announced the postponement of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) visit later this month to Taiwan's diplomatic allies in Central America.

"Considering the need to stop the spread of the SARS as soon as possible, secure public order and stop the economic rot, President Chen has decided to stay in the country and postpone his scheduled foreign trip until the situation is under control," said James Huang (黃志芳), a Presidential Office spokesman.

Huang said that the president originally planned to visit Costa Rica, Belize, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic between May 29 and June 11. Chen and his delegation also arranged to make transit stops in New York and Alaska, where he was due to meet US congressmen and other politicians.

Chen was also set to receive an award from the International League for Human Rights (ILHR), a human-rights organization in New York.

"The top priority is to combat the SARS virus," Huang said.

Huang said that the countries on Chen's itinerary understand the situation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will rearrange the trip for after the end of the Legislative Yuan's current session.

Meanwhile, Chen also urged the public to dwell on its responsibility as part of a democratic country, saying that some people have twisted the real meaning of democracy over the past weeks.

"[We need to comply with] basic principles of self-discipline and show respect to the rights of others," Chen said during his weekly televised broadcast yesterday.

Chen said that a university professor sent him an e-mail, which revealed that many people have not been treating the crisis in the way they should be.

"The professor said that some people would rather neither support nor believe anything. All they know to do is to ask those in authority to shoulder the responsibility when they become a victim of circumstance," Chen said.

"The professor said that this phenomenon reflects a collective mentality characterized by arrogance and an abuse of the spirit of democracy," the president said.

"And he also mentioned that media reports have had a negative effect on the country," Chen said.

"Those phenomena show that the media and the public need to take a long hard look at themselves," Chen said.

Chen said that the nation would emerge from the crisis if everybody can pull together.

"Someone told me recently that Taiwan has already conquered malaria and cholera during its most difficult eras with inadequate medical resources," the president said. "Therefore, we should have faith about our ability to meet the challenge again because now the country has everything it needs."

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