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For a Plebiscite in Taiwan

Update on Hunger Strike

Taipei, April 17, 1999

On Saturday, 10 April 1999, a coalition of opposition groups in Taiwan initiated a hunger strike by supporters of Taiwan's independence, including a number of legislators.

On Thursday, 15 April 1999, the hunger strikers were visited by former Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian. Chen praised the 24 participants in the strike for their courage and dedication. He also urged the people of Taiwan to give them moral support.

One of the hunger strikers, Mr. Yang Chin-hai, a member of the National Assembly, had to be hospitalized on Thursday, the sixth day of the activity. In the 1970s, Mr. Yang was one of Taiwan's most well-known political prisoners, and was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

Another hunger striker, DPP Legislator Shen Fu-hsiung, himself a medical doctor, was reported to develop low blood pressure and was suffering from periodic blackouts. Still, he wanted to continue.

Some of the other hunger strikers were also weakening, but others were still able to talk with reporters and give impassioned media interviews. One such interview was reported by the London-based BBC.

In a related report on Saturday, 17 April 1999, it was announced that lawmakers from the KMT and the DPP in the Legislative Yuan have agreed to discuss a law to allow a plebiscite on Taiwan's formal independence, on Tuesday, 20 April. However, they would not undertake to pass it immediately.

That won't be enough to convince hunger strikers to end their fast, which will pass the one-week mark today, said Trong Chai, a legislator from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which launched the protest. "We welcome all discussion on this matter,'' he said. "The hunger strike will continue until all sides are committed to the law's passage.''

Three hunger strikers have dropped out but 25 others, including a handful of legislators, say they will keep on refusing food until a commitment is given to pass a plebiscite law or their bodies give out.

Set up in front of the legislature building in downtown Taipei, the low-key protest harkens back to the early days of the island's transition to democracy in the late 1980s when marches and hunger strikes were frequent.