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Thursday October 5, 2000

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Taiwanese president names premier

By The Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A veteran politician and onetime dissidents' attorney took over as Taiwan's premier yesterday, replacing an ailing former military chief who failed to calm the island's political turmoil.

Chang Chun-hsiung replaced Tang Fei, one day after he ended his four-month stint as the No. 3 ranking leader amid growing public concern about the government's policies.

The new premier quickly tried to assure Taiwanese that he would bring stability. But investors were still jittery and Taiwan's slumping stock market plunged 2.4 percent.

Chang joined President Chen Shui-bian in praising Tang's dedication and in expressing regret about his resignation.

He also said the administration will try harder to unify Taiwan's fractious politics. As premier, Chang will be responsible for defending the government's policies in the unruly legislature.

"We will use our greatest efforts and most sincere, modest attitude to listen to the public and the opposition parties," Chang said.

Chang, a former vice premier, has served as a lawmaker and is a longtime member of President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party. When the party was banned during Taiwan's martial law era, Chang worked as a defense attorney for political dissidents.

The 68-year-old Tang, who underwent lung surgery in April, said he quit because of declining health. However, many believed his differences with the president over a nuclear project influenced his decision. Tang favored finishing the plant, while the president wanted to scrap it.

The new Taiwanese president, who took office in May, was expected to have a rough time forming a new government and handling the legislature, dominated by the Nationalist Party.

The Nationalists controlled Taiwan's presidency for five decades before Chen's election upset in March, and the party - still angry about the defeat - has not cooperated with Chen's young party.

Many thought the president could smooth relations with lawmakers by appointing Tang to be premier. Tang, a former fighter pilot and defense minister, was a Nationalist with a reputation for being thoughtful and bipartisan. He also enjoyed one of the highest public approval ratings in the former Nationalist Cabinet.

But Tang struggled to win over the legislature and his inexperienced Cabinet ministers had difficulties selling their new policies to lawmakers.

The stock market, which has lost 40 percent of it value since April, has been used as a barometer of the public's eroding confidence in the government.

One of the new premier's first announcements was that Finance Minister Shea Jia-dong would be replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle. Shea has been criticized for the volatility of the stock market.

Smiling and looking relaxed, Tang yesterday morning declined to discuss in detail his decision to resign. He told reporters that he had no regrets about his decision to serve as premier.

Tang said he had served in the government for 49 years. "I'm finished fighting my war," he said, prompting laughter from reporters.