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Lawmaker questions if bird flu constitutes 'force majeure'

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Kuomintang lawmakers badgered two top government officials yesterday about what constitutes "forces majeures," or unexpected events that would suspend or defer two national elections next year.

Hou Sheng-mao, minister of health, and Teng Tien-yu, secretary-general of the Central Election Commission, had a hard time responding to charges of "playing dirty tricks" at two Legislative Yuan committee meetings.

Legislator Ting Shou-chung questioned Hou if a bird flu epidemic in China could be considered a force majeure.

"An avian flu may break out and assume epidemic proportions in China — let's say, next month," Ting said at the meeting of the public health, environment and social welfare committee.

Should that happen, Ting went on, an exchange of private visits between Taiwan and China may have to be suspended.

"Is it a force majeure that is now being considered as a reason for suspending elections?" he asked Hou.

There are over one million Taiwan businesspeople and their dependents in China. Election law requires them to come back to Taiwan to vote.

Voters are expected to go to the polls to elect a new Legislative Yuan on Jan. 12 and the president on March 22.

The CEC is planning to add "force majeure" as condition for suspending both races.

"We are not sure," said an embarrassed health minister.

As a matter of fact, Hou said, the question has not been studied. "Nor have we been asked to make that study, either," he added.

But Hou promised to abide by the epidemic prevention regulations of the World Health Organization in making a decision to forbid people to come to Taiwan when a bird flu epidemic breaks out in China.

Ting claimed the ruling Democratic Progressive Party may play dirty tricks to get both elections stalled, if it is convinced it couldn't win.

Seven out of every ten Taiwanese entrepreneurs in China are supporters of the opposition Kuomintang, which is expected to retain the majority in the new parliament.

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