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Taiwan sticks with U.S. pork in contentious referendum

Voters shoot down proposed ban, prioritizing relations with Washington

The annual Autumn Struggle labor protest focuses on its opposition to the government's decision to allow imports of US pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness, and other issues related to the referendum in Taipei on Dec.12.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) -- Referendums that if approved might have affected Taiwan's ties with key backer the United States and its energy security failed to pass on Saturday, in a major setback to the opposition which had cast the vote as a show of no confidence in the government.

The votes came as China has heaped pressure on democratic Taiwan to accept Beijing's sovereignty claims and tensions between the two have soared.

Taiwan's main opposition party the Kuomintang, or KMT, was thrashed in presidential and parliamentary elections last year, unable to shake accusations from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Tsai Ing-wen that the KMT was too close to China.

Of the four referendums, the two most contentious and high-profile asked whether to ban imports of pork containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine, and whether to change the site of a planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to protect a reef.

The government approved the pork imports last year, hoping to remove a stumbling block for a free trade deal with its most important international backer the United States, where ractopamine is widely used, and show it is reliable partner.

It says the LNG terminal will secure the semiconductor-producing island's energy supplies, and it would re-site the project further offshore to minimize the impact on the reef. The vote sought a complete relocation.

Voters rejected the proposals, as the government had asked them to do, though turn out was low.

For a referendum to pass, at least 25% of the island's roughly 20 million eligible voters need to vote in favor, or some five million votes.

In the end around four million people voted "no" to the four questions, more than those who voted "yes".

KMT Chairman Eric Chu said the outcome was "not ideal" and offered his apologies.

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