Taiwan accepts resignation of economics minister over blast row

Taiwan's national flag flies at half mast over the Presidential Office in Taipei on August 5, 2014.

TAIPEI - Taiwan's cabinet on Sunday said it has accepted the resignation of the economics minister who stepped down to try to ease political gridlock in the aftermath of a gas explosion that killed 30 people and injured more than 300.

Chang Chia-juch, who took his post in February 2013, submitted his resignation late on Thursday after a series of gas blasts ripped through several city blocks in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, late on July 31.

The Executive Yuan, or cabinet, said in a statement Premier Chang Yi-huah accepted Chang's decision to go despite efforts to persuade him to stay at his post. The two are not related.

Several other senior officials, including the deputy economics minister and Kaohsiung city government officials, also submitted their resignations on Thursday.

Central and local government authorities have been in dispute over compensation for the blast and the costs of reconstruction.

Former minister Chang said last week he hoped his departure from the cabinet would ease the political deadlock.

A new minister would be announced once a successor was determined, the cabinet said.

The explosions gutted a district in the port city packed with shops and apartment buildings.

Soon after the blast, Chang the minister told reporters initial assessments suggested it had been caused by a leak of propylene, a material used in the production of plastics and fabrics.

The dispute over the aftermath of the blast is the latest between the ruling and opposition parties in Taiwan that have hobbled the prime minister's tenure.

Taiwan politicians and the public have been divided over a trade and services pact with China that would bring both sides economically closer. There has also been disagreement over the fate of the long-stalled construction of a fourth nuclear power plant in northern Taiwan.

"(The resignation) is not great for sentiment, but the real impact isn't that big," Chu Yen-min, president of KGI Securities Investment Advisory in Taipei, said of Chiang's resignation.

Chu pointed out that former minister Chang was not spearheading a major project or in the midst of directing major policymaking.