Taiwan minister sacked over gas blasts

Taiwan's economics minister was removed from his position Sunday by the cabinet, in line with his wishes, as he took responsibility for deadly gas explosions in the south-western city of Kaohsiung last month, state-run Central News Agency (CNA) reported.

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Thirty people died in the July 31 blasts in pipelines that supply industrial zones. The Economics Ministry is responsible for the operation of those zones, which had prompted calls for the ouster of Chang Chia-juch from residents and opposition members.

Although Premier Jiang Yi-huah had resisted the minister's insistence that he be held responsible and step down, CNA reported Sunday that Jiang had finally acquiesced to Chang's stance.

According to cabinet spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun, Jiang's approval was made after repeated statements from Chang saying he was reluctant to return to his office post.

Chang submitted his resignation late Thursday, saying he was prepared to "shoulder the blame" for any political instability caused by the blasts.

President Ma Ying-jeou respected Chang's decision and recognized Chang's contributions during his 18 months in office, presidential office spokeswoman Ma Wei-kuo said Sunday.

Jiang late Sunday appointed Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Woody Duh as Chang's successor.

Four Kaohsiung city officials already tendered their resignations Thursday.

The resignations came after an apology from Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, who said the local government had discovered the existence of pipelines in poor condition when it conducted a site investigation for a light rail system.

Chen said Friday that their resignations would not take effect until the end of reconstruction work. The city has urged the cabinet to allocate 1.9 billion Taiwan dollars (63 million US dollars) for the reconstruction.

There has been no official announcement on the cause of the explosions, which also left 310 injured. According to the government, 121 victims remained hospitalized.

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