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Taiwan begins 3-day mourning period after typhoon

Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, August 22, 2009 | 12:28 AM


Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou hugs the relative, dressed in a traditional funeral gown, of a victim of Typhoon Morakot during a visit to the destroyed village of Shiao Lin, in southern Taiwan, Wednesday Aug. 19, 2009. During his visit, victims on Wednesday berated Taiwan's president over his slow response to Typhoon Morakot, while two more senior officials offered to resign as anger against the government mounted. (AP Photo)

Soldiers carry the body of a victim near the site of a major landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot which destroyed the mountain village of Hsiao Lin in Kaohsiung county, southern Taiwan August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Taiwan soldiers carry an injured person to a typhoon rescue centre in the town of Chiashien in Kaohsiung county, southern Taiwan. A political storm surrounding Taiwan's Typhoon Morakot gained force as the defence minister and cabinet secretary offered to resign over the government's slow response. (AFP/Peter Parks)

Taiwan soldiers clean up a damaged road following Typhoon Morakot in Chuchi, Chiayi County, southern Taiwan August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Taiwan Military News Agency/Handout

A soldier smells the ground while looking for the bodies of flood victims in the mudslide-affected village of Sinkai, following Typhoon Morakot in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Taiwan soldiers rest inbetween assisting with a cleanup operation following Typhoon Morakot, in the town of Chiashien in southern Taiwan's Kaohsiung county. More than 460 people were missing nearly two weeks after Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan, unleashing floods and mudslides that left more than 150 confirmed dead, emergency officials said Friday. (AFP/Peter Parks)

Taiwan soldiers help to clean up a street covered with mud following Typhoon Morakot in Linbian, Pingtung County, southern Taiwan August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Taiwan Military News Agency/Handout

Soldiers search for bodies on a street covered with mud, following Typhoon Morakot in Liugui, Pingtung County, southern Taiwan August 21, 2009. More than 600 people were listed dead or missing in Taiwan on Friday after one of the island's worst typhoons as the military began digging up bodies buried deep under rocks and mud. REUTERS/Taiwan Military News Agency/Handout

By PETER ENAV, Associated Press Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan – 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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