Taiwan Begins 3-Day Mourning Period after Typhoon

Taiwan began a three-day mourning period to remember the victims of Typhoon Morakot on Saturday, two weeks after the island's worst weather disaster in 50 years devastated its mountainous south.

The storm took at least 500 lives and caused more than $2 billion in property damage. It triggered landslides and widespread flooding that trapped thousands of people in remote villages for days.

Early Saturday flags around Taiwan were lowered to half staff, and government officials attended religious events paying homage to the storm victims.

Since the full dimensions of the Morakot disaster became clear about 12 days ago, President Ma-Ying-jeou has struggled to assuage widespread anger over the government's slow response.

His approval rating has now dropped to below 20 percent - a 30 percent decline in only three months - amid an almost daily battering in Taiwan's hypercritical media - including in outlets normally friendly to the administration.

The Liberty Times - which normally supports the opposition - published details on Saturday of the $110 Japanese meal enjoyed by Ma's economic minister on the first day of a massive rescue operation aimed at saving the lives of thousands of flood-stranded villagers.

Three other senior officials - the vice-foreign minister, the defense minister and the Cabinet secretary-general - have already offered to resign, their reputations pummeled by a growing perception that the government was either indifferent to the fate of Morakot's victims or incapable of offering them succor.

Ma has been visiting hard-hit areas in the south over the past two days, bowing before the families of the dead and promising that a planned $3 billion reconstruction program will be carried out with exemplary efficiency.

A major question now facing Ma is how quickly he will be able to reverse the considerable political damage he has sustained and get back to dealing with the signature enterprise of his presidency - improving relations with rival China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

In his 15 months in office, Ma has reversed the pro-independence policies of his predecessor, moving rapidly to link Taiwan's economy with that of the mainland, and even speaking of a peace treaty between the sides.

So far the pro-independence opposition has been cautious about raising the issue of whether someone whose leadership has been so
badly wounded can be counted on to effectively manage the complex
and politically sensitive China opening.

Ma himself appeared to address the issue at a press conference
on Tuesday, saying management of China ties is unrelated to Morakot
and the difficult questions it raises.


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