09/06/2005, 00.00
TAIWAN – THAILAND
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Taiwanese labour minister resigns after Thai workers riot

Subway workers were protesting unjust working conditions. Prosecutors in Kaohsiung are looking into allegations of government corruption.

Kaohsiung (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Chen Chu, Taiwan's Labour Minister, resigned yesterday to take responsibility for a riot two weeks. Ms Chen said she felt compelled to take responsibility for what happened on August 21 riot when 1,700 mostly Thai labourers went on a rampage, burnt houses and cars and for 17 hours battled police with stones and slingshots.

The workers complained that their employer—Mass Rapid Transit— barred them from bringing alcohol and cigarettes into their dormitory and using cellphones. They also objected to being paid in company money that could only be used in company stores.

"The fact that the foreign workers were deprived and were being hurt dealt a severe blow to my human rights values, and it gave me pain and unease," Ms Chen said. "I don't just blame myself but want to take responsibility for it."

The riot has led to allegations of official corruption, with opposition politicians charging that the company managing the subway project was able to exploit the Thai workers because it had paid huge bribes.

The Prosecutor's Office in Kaohsiung is looking into the corruption allegations.

Yesterday, an executive of the subway builder denied he took bribes. The builder is not responsible for the hiring of foreign workers, which has been contracted to another company.

"There are many chances to make money legitimately and I don't have to make money out of the foreign labourers," said Mass Rapid Transit vice-chairman Chen Min-hsien.

Thais make up the largest group of foreign workers in Taiwan. There are about 94,000 on the island, employed mostly in construction. 

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