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April 20, 2017

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Violent protests as lawmakers feel force of Taiwan pensioners

VIOLENT protests over pension reforms outside Taiwan’s legislative complex yesterday saw scores of demonstrators scuffling with police and politicians.

The rallies were staged as lawmakers began reviewing controversial bills which are designed to stop the struggling pension system from collapsing but are expected to affect nearly 500,000 civil servants and teachers.

Several lawmakers and politicians said they were pushed, punched and had water splashed on them as they tried to enter the legislative complex in central Taipei, which was guarded by barbed-wire barricades and a heavy police presence.

Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen vowed to press ahead with the changes despite a recent string of protests and said her government would not tolerate violence.

“Intentionally causing conflicts will not deter the (government’s) determination for reforms... our urgent task is to bring the pension system back from the brink of bankrupcy,” she told reporters.

Anger has been mounting among public-sector workers and retirees as the government unveiled draft bills aimed at reducing their pensions and phasing out a special savings rate for them which pays 18 percent interest.

The government has warned that various pension funds are likely to go bankrupt within three to 14 years unless the system is overhauled.

More than 100,000 civil servants, teachers and servicemen demonstrated last year against the planned reforms — the largest street protest since Tsai became the island’s leader.

There was also chaos inside the legislative complex yesterday as opposition lawmakers temporarily seized the podium and demanded the government hold public hearings on the issue.

The pension issue is the latest challenge for Tsai, who has seen her popularity ratings fall rapidly since taking the helm in May last year as her government tackles a range of domestic issues — from gay marriage to judicial reform.

The Pension Reform Oversight Alliance, an organizer of yesterday’s protests, criticized the government’s “rough and irresponsible” methods and vowed to stage bigger demonstrations.

“The Tsai government blames us but it is their incompetence that is forcing many people, not just civil servants and teachers, to take to the streets,” said alliance spokesman Lee Lai-hsi.

Last December lawmakers brawled in the chamber while labor activists set off smoke bombs outside in protest at proposed holiday cuts.

Taiwan’s pension schemes vary for different occupations. Public-sector retirees typically receive more generous packages than other workers.


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