Taiwan Economy Minister Offers to Resign After Deadly Blasts

Taiwan’s economy minister Chang Chia-Juch offered his resignation yesterday, taking responsibility for gas explosions in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung city that killed at least 30 people.

Chang said he hoped his stepping down would stem the political blame-game in Taiwan, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ website. Premier Jiang Yi-huah commended Chang’s response to the disaster in a statement late yesterday and said he hopes Chang will reconsider his decision.

The Kaohsiung government has blamed a chemicals maker for the explosions and said on Aug. 6 that Chang’s ministry was responsible for regulating the pipelines that may have leaked gas. Four city officials resigned for failing to share information on pipeline usage, a spokesman confirmed, after a report in the Taipei-based China Times said the city had lied about its knowledge of underground pipelines. Mayor Chen Chu disputed those accusations yesterday, saying the issue was one of poor communication among government departments, not deceit.

Mayoral elections are scheduled to be held on Nov. 29 in cities across Taiwan, including Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Student Protest

Chang, a former deputy minister of transportation, had been promoting a plan for the establishment of Free Economic Pilot Zones across Taiwan, currently under lawmaker review. He advocated for a services industry trade agreement with China, which has languished in the legislature after a student occupation of government buildings in March and April this year.

President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement yesterday that he supports the premier’s stance on Chang’s resignation. Chang was chairman of Taiwan’s China Airlines Ltd. when he was tapped for economy minister in February 2013.

Chang should stay because frequent changes in cabinet leaders as a result of vicious political battles have seriously undermined economic development, the chairman of Taiwan-listed developer Shining Building Business Co. Lai Cheng-I said in comments carried by the Central News Agency yesterday.

Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou said Chang is needed to helm Taiwan’s economic restructuring and that he should reconsider the resignation, cable network TVBS reported.

Kaohsiung said earlier LCY Chemical Corp. failed to stop sending propylene through city pipelines after residents complained of noxious fumes emerging from the streets. The company has declined to say whether propylene was leaking from its pipes. Its shares have fallen 35 percent since July 31.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the former position held by the economy minister.)

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