Chen to appear in court
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) will appear in court today for a three-day preliminary hearing on corruption charges that he insists are politically motivated, a court official said. Chen, who is being detained at Taipei Detention Center in Tucheng (土城), Taipei County, is scheduled to appear at the Taipei District Court at 9:30am, the official said yesterday. Three other accused — two businessmen and a former science park chief — will also appear. Chen’s defense lawyer Cheng Wen-lung (鄭文龍) told reporters yesterday that “not only is presiding judge Tsai Shou-hsun [蔡守訓] biased, but so are most local news media. So the chances of winning the case in the district court are not high.”
Festival dates announced
This year’s Pingsi International Lantern Festival will open on Jan. 26 and feature concerts, dance performances and sky lantern displays. Three main sky lantern celebrations will be held during the 15-day festival. A small-scale event will be held at Chingtung Elementary School on Jan. 31 and larger-scale extravaganzas will be held at Pingsi Junior High School on Feb. 7 and at “Sky Lantern Square” in Pingsi Township (平溪) on Feb. 9, the traditional Lantern Festival where people send their lanterns into the sky and make wishes for the New Year. The Lantern Festival falls 15 days after the Lunar New Year. During the 15-day festival, a total of 10,000 ox-shaped sky lanterns, in celebration of the Year of the Ox, will be given away to help festival visitors send their New Year’s wishes to the gods, the county’s Tourism Bureau said.
NCCU to launch stipend
National Chengchi University (NCCU) yesterday launched a stipend to prevent its students from dropping out of school as a result of the recent economic downturn. The plan, dubbed the “Dawning Project,” includes NT$3.5 million (US$100,000) for students whose families suffer during the recession, NCCU’s dean of student affairs Lin Yeh-yun (林月雲) said. The project consists of three categories — offering students requiring emergency financial help, providing part-time job opportunities on campus and affordable dormitories, Lin said. Any students whose parents are laid off or on unpaid leave could apply for a monthly subsidy of between NT$8,000 and NT$16,000 so that the students would be able to cover their basic living expenses, she said. Those who were unable to afford their tuition fees could also apply for a stipend ranging between NT$10,000 and NT$50,000, she said. Meanwhile, the Chung Yuan Christian University has also decided to exempt students whose parents have recently been laid off from tuition fees for the spring semester. The school planned to set up a NT$5 million fund to cover the costs, it said.
Illegal immigrants up
Coastal patrols captured 396 illegal would-be immigrants trying to enter the country last year, 15 percent more than in 2007, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) figures showed. CGA Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺) said the number of those from Vietnam grew at a faster pace than other nationalities. CGA agents also seized 107 firearms and 1,387 bullets last year, increases of 91 percent and 48 percent from 2007, he said. Wang said that 11.37kg of first-grade drugs, 232.11kg of second-grade drugs and 343kg of third-grade narcotics were also seized over the past year, slightly less than 2007. He attributed the decrease to a shortage of illicit drugs on the international market.