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Friday, April 16, 1999 Published at 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Taiwan hunger strikers seek plebiscite

Hunger strikers say 80% of people would vote against Chinese rule

By Francis Markus in Taipei

A hunger strike by Taiwanese opposition supporters who are pressing for legislation to allow a plebiscite on the island's future has entered its seventh day.

Some 24 people, including several members of parliament, are fasting outside the parliament building.

The government's overwhelming majority in parliament means that legislation, stuck on the books for several years, has virtually no chance of passing in its present form. But the hunger strikers are hoping their media campaign will pressure the government to change its position.

Chinese opposition

Sheltering from the sun in partitioned cubicles beneath a striped canopy, some of the hunger strikers appear weak and lethargic, while others still manage to engage in lively chat with supporters and give impassioned media interviews.

Their goal is to pressure the governing Nationalist Party, the KMT, to pass, or at least debate, a bill allowing for a national plebiscite on Taiwan's future.

[ image: Many were described as feeling weak and dizzy]
Many were described as feeling weak and dizzy
The hunger strike's organiser, Trong Tsai, who put forward the legislation, says it does not necessarily imply a vote to assert Taiwan's formal independence from China.

"If we vote for independence, then we can get about one-third of the population's support, but if we vote whether you are going to accept Chinese rule, 80% of the people would vote against Chinese rule," he says.

Beijing, which still regards Taiwan as a rebel province, is not likely to appreciate the distinction.

A leading newspaper here on Friday quoted China's top negotiator on Taiwan as reiterating his opposition to the plebiscite bill.

Private support

Publicly, Taiwan's governing KMT is also against it, but the hunger strikers claim considerable numbers of KMT politicians privately support them.

They hope their media exposure will persuade President Lee Teng-Hui to change his stance on the issue and take up the opposition's demand as he has indeed done on other key political decisions.

But there is no sign to date that the government is contemplating such a move.

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