TAIPEI — Taiwan Premier Tang Fei accepted his deputy's resignation on Tuesday over a deadly delay in rescue efforts to save four workers swept away in a flash flood.
Three men and one woman marooned in the raging Pachang river in the southern Chiayi county had waited almost three hours for help on Saturday while the military and police bickered over who should respond to the distress call.
Yu Shyi-kun, 52, tendered his resignation as vice premier late on Monday — after just two months in office — to take responsibility for the bungled rescue attempt which ended with the deaths of the four workers.
The premier approved Yu's resignation early on Tuesday after "careful consideration," the cabinet said in a statement.
Tang had himself offered to resign on Monday, but President Chen Shui-bian asked him to stay on. If Tang had insisted on stepping down, the cabinet would have had to resign en masse.
"Once Premier Tang resigns, the entire cabinet would have to be formed all over again," said Yu, who was also head of the government's disaster prevention and rescue committee prior to his resignation.
"The political situation would be even more unstable," he told a news conference. The nation's police and firefighting chiefs also offered to step down.
Dramatic television footage showed the workers clinging to each other as they stood knee-deep in the middle of the swollen river waiting for help. They had been repairing a dyke.
Search teams have now found the bodies of the four workers, including a husband and wife team.
President Chen and Premier Tang have apologised over the incident which has sparked national outrage but opposition criticism has not eased.
A legislator from the opposition New Party speculated that Yu was like a pawn "sacrificed to protect the king."
Yu dismissed the speculation, saying it was unfair to Tang.
He said the new administration had deficiencies, but should be given ample time to familiarize itself with its job.
Lien Chan, chairman of the main opposition Nationalist Party, called the new government incompetent.
The Office of the President issued a statement urging all government officials to learn a lesson from the tragedy.
Chen also took a swipe at the previous administration, saying the new government would not allow old bureaucratic attitudes to be carried over.
A public opinion poll conducted by the mass-circulation United Daily News showed the popularity ratings of the president and the premier dropped by more than 10 percentage points each since the incident.
Thirteen officials have received demerits, including the nation's police chief and military generals.
Families of the victims would be paid government compensation and an investigation has begun into any wrongdoing.
Yu, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and Tang, a Nationalist stalwart, took office in May.
Chen of the DPP swept to power in elections in March, ending more than five decades of Nationalist rule in Taiwan. But Chen was forced to name Tang premier because the Nationalists still dominated parliament.