Taiwan parliament approved a controversial bill

The Taiwan parliament approved a controversial bill to legalise land gambling on offshore islands by a 71-26 vote Monday. The government, led by President Ma Ying-jeou of China-friendly Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), pushed to end the ban on gambling for the Penghu Islands off Taiwan's west coast, reports Earth Times.

Protesters led by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and several civilian groups demonstrated outside parliament against the decision.

"To legalize gambling on the Penghu Islands, the government needs to hold a referendum in the whole country, not only on Penghu, and Parliament should hold a public hearing to assess what the public think about it," Shih Chao-hui, a Buddhist nun, said.

"To rescue Penghu's economy, the government should give the islands assistance, not give them a casino," DPP lawmaker Pan Meng-an said.

The KMT-dominated parliament approved the bill to allow residents of Penghu to hold a referendum on whether to set up casinos to improve tourism and revenues. The referendum among the 90 000 Penghu population is expected to take place in June 2009

Parliament Speaker Wang Jin-pying said Taiwan wanted to copy Singapore's leisure industry, and stressed that casinos were only part of the package.

"Taiwan is a plural society. We respect all opinions. If we adopt Singapore's model of establishing a special tourism zone, building casinos is only part of the zone," he said.

The Penghu County government is already amassing 30 billion Taiwan dollars (909 million US dollars) in private investment to help develop casino resorts, and plans have been drawn up to build a 120-hectare international vacation village which would contain a 2 000-room hotel, a duty-free shopping mall, an international convention centre, as well as golf courses and casinos, with construction scheduled to start in 2011.

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