TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan's health minister was hospitalised Friday after he was allegedly attacked by opposition lawmakers angry over the government's response to the widening scandal over tainted Chinese milk products, witnesses said.
Television footage broadcast on several networks showed the minister, Yeh Ching-chuan, being surrounded by a group of people, as reporters shouted "How can lawmakers hit people? Don't use violence."
A lawmaker from the ruling Kuomintang at the scene, Chang Sho-wen, said the scuffle erupted when several opposition members of parliament tried to prevent Yeh from leaving the parliament after a meeting with bakery owners and MPs.
"We condemn the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ... someone grabbed the minister's neck and he could hardly breathe," Chang said.
The DPP denied that its MPs grabbed Yeh.
He was later hospitalised for heart palpitations and dizziness, said a spokeswoman for the National Taiwan University Hospital.
Yeh, a public health expert best known for leading Taipei through the SARS crisis in 2003 as the capital's deputy mayor, took over as health minister last week after predecessor Lin Fang-yue resigned over the tainted milk scandal.
"We condemn any form of violence. The public would not want to see such a thing happening in the parliament," Premier Liu Chao-shiuan told reporters after visiting Yeh at the hospital.
Taiwan has banned all Chinese dairy imports and ordered those products already imported to be tested for traces of the industrial chemical melamine.
Yeh said Thursday that six China-produced Nestle products were pulled from store shelves after they were found to contain low levels of melamine, but insisted the contamination did not pose a significant health risk.
Nestle Taiwan criticised the move, saying the levels were insignificant and that the government's decision would cost it at least one billion Taiwan dollars (31.15 million US).
The DPP lashed out at Yeh and the government of President Ma Ying-jeou for its handling of the situation.
"Nobody is clear on the government's policy and testing standards on melamine. Yeh is avoiding explaining the policy and he is incompetent," DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming told reporters.
Taiwanese lawmakers have in the past been involved in bruising scraps.
In May 2007, dozens of lawmakers scuffled on the floor of parliament amid a long-running dispute over a controversial bill on the formation of the island's election commission.
In January that same year, one female lawmaker hurled her shoes at legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng, which grazed his face and hit a colleague.
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