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President Ma apologizes

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou, apologizing for delays in helping victims of the flood disaster of August 8, announced yesterday he canceled this year's Double Tenth National Day celebrations on October 10 and his state visits to the Southern Pacific.

At two press conferences, one for the domestic press and the other for the international press corps, President Ma offered his apology to the nation for failure to rescue and relieve flood victims in time.

Six rescuers lost their lives, Ma said. At least 126 people were killed, with more than 500 others reported missing, two thirds of them presumed dead.

"To all their families, I offer my apology and sympathy," Ma said almost in tears, before bowing deeply together with four top government officials, including Vice President Vincent Siew and Vice Premier Paul Chiu, who were by his side at the press meetings.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan was conspicuously absent.

"I have to take responsibility for all," Ma said. "It's my responsibility so long as the government didn't do its job well," he added.

The cancellation of the national day celebrations is one of the important decisions President Ma announced before the press. The celebrations were called off after the earthquake of Sept. 21, 1999, in which more than 2,400 people were killed.

"I have to call off visits to the Solomon Islands later in the month," Ma said. He was scheduled to attend the third Taiwan-South Pacific summit at Honiara on October 20. He was to leave Taipei on October 17 and return on October 22. On his way home, he would have visited Palau and another diplomatic ally of Taiwan.

Another decision Ma made was to set up a chain of government agencies exclusively charged with attending to disaster control, prevention, as well as rescue and relief. One of them will be set up under the Ministry of the Interior to replace the National Fire Agency. All local governments will have similar agencies.

Moreover, Ma said, NT$10 billion would be appropriated for the purchase of heavy-lift helicopters needed to evacuate victims of floods and earthquakes.

People will have to be trained to cope better with disasters, Ma added.

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 President Ma apologizes 
President Ma Ying-jeou, second from right, leads Vice President Vincent Siew, second from left, Vice Premier Paul Chiu, right, and Defense Minister Chen Cho-min, in apologizing for delays in helping victims of the flood disaster of Aug. 8. (CNA)

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