Taiwan defense minister resigns over soldier's death

Taiwan's Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu resigned Monday to take the blame for the death of a young army soldier who died earlier this month following a severe punishment for carrying a camera-equipped phone to his base.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah told a press conference at the Executive Yuan on Monday that Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang will replace Kao.

Yang, 58, will be the first civilian to occupy the position since President Ma Ying-jeou was first elected in 2008.

Yang was a researcher at the National Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Kaohsiung before he was recruited by the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry as a consultant. He was appointed deputy defense ministry in September 2009.

The death of army conscript Hung Chung-chiu has dealt a blow to Ma, who is suffering from low approval ratings.

About 15,000 people gathered outside the Defense Ministry in Taipei on Saturday to protest the abuse of the 24-year-old soldier and demanding justice.

Another demonstration is planned for this coming Saturday to mark the one month anniversary of the soldier's death.

Seeking to placate public outcry, Ma asked Kao to present a report on improving human rights in the military before Friday last week.

In the report, Kao listed three major flaws in the military's handling of Hung's detention and death and presented 13 measures to revamp the current military environment and policies, including establishing a better complaint system and improving the rights of soldiers in the military.

Apart from Kao, Jiang said six other Cabinet officials will be replaced.