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For a Plebiscite in Taiwan

Hunger Strike Ends

Taipei, April 20, 1999

On Tuesday, an 11-day-old hunger strike by some 24 prominent members of the democratic opposition in Taiwan came to an end.

The fast started on Saturday, 10 April 1999, and had as its purpose to put pressure on the ruling Kuomintang to allow passage of a Bill in the Legislative Yuan, providing for a referendum on major national issues, such as Taiwan's future.

The hunger strikers succeeded in calling attention to the failure of the ruling Kuomintang to enact such a bill since its first reading on March 16, 1994. Their effort received wide attention in Taiwan (see our update of 17 April 1999) and was reported by the London-based BBC.

"The KMT did not guarantee the passage of a plebiscite law in the parliament, and we should have persisted," said a statement released by the Taiwan Plebiscite Action Committee. "But we're afraid that if we continued with the fast someone will die."

Three participants were forced to drop out due to physical weakness. Dozens of supporters of the referendum call, including parliamentarians from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and college students. took part in the hunger strike.

As a concession to end the hunger strike, the majority KMT allowed debate on the plebiscite in the legislature, but indicated it did not want passage of the bill.

The bill allowing the holding of referendums on national issues ranging from nuclear power plants to Taiwan's future, proposed by DPP legislator Trong Chai, passed its first reading in parliament in March 1994 but was blocked by the KMT.

The plebiscite bill was discussed again in the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday, 20 April, and will be pursued at a later date, when the members of the Legislative Yuan participating in the hunger strike will have recuperated.

The campaign organizers said that they had to call off the hunger strike for the sake of the 23 strikers' lives, but stressed that their determination and resolve has not softened. In a joint statement, they reiterated the need for a plebiscite law to ensure the right of the people of Taiwan to self-determination, and said they will take further action in the future to achieve their end.

Legislator Trong Chai from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, who coordinated the hunger strike, said at the beginning of the fast last Saturday that they are convinced "a plebiscite can be the best solution to problem of Taiwan's sovereignty," and would give the people of Taiwan a voice in major policy decisions in the country.