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Public hearings on Japanese food in Tainan ends in rowdy protests

2016/11/12 15:11

Taipei, Nov. 12 (CNA) A melee broke out at a public hearing in Tainan on lifting the ban on imports of currently banned Japanese food from radiation-affected prefectures when protesters clashed with government officials Saturday.

A total of 10 public hearings are scheduled from Nov. 12-14 in the northern, central, southern and eastern parts of Taiwan, as part of a government move widely seen as paving the way for its impending lifting of a five-year ban on Japanese produce from the prefectures affected by radiation following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The public hearing in Tainan was the first of the 10, and was presided over by Chen Chun-yen (陳俊言), head of the department of international cooperation under the Council of Agriculture. Also on hand were Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) , deputy director of the Council of Agriculture, and officials from the Office of Food Safety under the Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Atomic Energy Council.

But shortly after the opening of the public hearing, Tsai Yu-hui(蔡育輝), a caucus whip of the opposition Kuomintang at the Tainan City Council, and City councilor Lu Kun-fu (盧崑福), led around two dozen protesters into the venue, demanding that the public hearing be suspended.

They lashed out at the central government for its "sneaky" way of holding the public hearing. Lu said that, as a Tainan city Councilor, he only learned about the public hearing Friday evening.

An agitated Lu later twice pushed and shoved Chen Chun-yen during the protest. Tsai and Lu presented a signature book to show that only one citizen attended the public hearing, shouting "is this the one-man public hearing?"

They questioned if this was really a public hearing with only government officials, protesters and policemen attending. The protesters also dashed to the chairman's table and hoisting protest cards, with some smashing the papers on the chairman's table and spilliing his cup of water, shouting angrily that "the food that even Japanese would not eat are going to be exported to Taiwan. Are (our) children worth nothing?"

A larger contingent of police force was sent in to help maintain order, and the public hearing was interrupted for nearly one hour.

When it reopened, the protesters said the procedure was a gross violation of regulations, noting that a public hearing should be announced 10 days before it is held. "This public hearing doesn't count, as the Executive Yuan has grossly violated the law," a protester said.

Chen Chun-yen said that the COA will review the procedural issue.

About 10 minutes before the forum ended, the chairman's table was overturned. Chen Chun-yen then called an end to the forum after the scheduled two-hour period for the forum had expired. Both COA officials left the venue under police escort.

A similar public hearing was held in Chiayi Saturday morning in which participants said the government's responsibility is to protect the people and ensure food safety.

They asked why the government wants to import risky food from Japan. Chen Chi-chung has said that a partial reopening of currently banned Japanese products could come next year, but would not include items from Fukushima.

In an interview with CNA on Thursday, he said Japan will still be required to produce certificates of radiation inspection and certificates of origin with each shipment, and Taiwan will also inspect imports shipment by shipment at its border.

Food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba have been suspended in Taiwan since March 25, 2011 because of fears of radioactive contamination in those areas from a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The nuclear disaster was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunamis on March 11, 2011.

Since May 15, 2015, importers of Japanese food products have been required to present certificates of origin to prove that their items do not originate from any of the five prefectures.

For some imports such as tea, baby food, dairy and aquatic products, radiation inspection certificates are also required.

Various Japanese groups have reportedly asked Taiwan to lift the ban since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) assumed office in May. Her administration is keen to build stronger ties with Japan.

(By Chang Jung-hsiang and Lilian Wu)Enditem/cs