Sun, Jun 20, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Education, not weapons: protesters

CNA , TAIPEI

A man dressed up as the Grim Reaper burns his sickle to symbolize the nation at war during a protest against a planned purchase of weapons from the US, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Hundreds of protesters yesterday demanded that the government abandon its plans to spend NT$610.8 billion (US$18.23 billion) on US weapons.

The rally in downtown Taipei was sponsored by activists from civic and environmental protection groups. Representatives of education reform and workers' rights groups also attended.

The poster-bearing protesters gathered in front of the Taipei Railway Station, wearing green headbands emblazoned with the words "Opposed to arms procurement." They also signed petitions opposing the arms procurement.

Demonstrators said that they are opposed to the government's plan to purchase arms without public discussion and claimed that the deal was being dictated by the US. They said that if the government insists on spending this much money on military hardware from the US, they would not rule out the possibility of scuttling the plan by means of a referendum.

According to the sponsors, the NT$610.8 billion could rather be used to fund the 12-year compulsory education plan, which has been on the drawing board for a decade and has still not been finalized. The money could also help sustain an annual environmental protection budget of NT$10 billion for 60 years, and could subsidize the medical bills for children under three years old for 200 years.

But they said that the huge arms procurement budget, which the government intends to fund by selling national land and floating national bonds, would squeeze out all other plans.

The protesters walked through the streets of Taipei to the nearby 2-28 Peace Memorial Park, shouting slogans such as: "Opposed to an arms race, insist on ideas of progress," "Opposed to receiving orders from the superpower, insist on treading one's own path," and "No bypassing public discussion, insist on public participation in the nation's policy."

They also performed music and skits in the park to highlight their appeal. Children and parents led the demonstrators along the way.

Huang Wu-hsiung (黃武雄), an activist for education reform and one of the event's sponsors, expressed the hope that Taiwan will be able to find another option to escape its present plight of relying on the US while resisting Beijing's "one country, two systems" unification scheme.

To show that the rally had no party affiliation, no political party flags were displayed throughout the demonstration.

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