Taiwan president mobbed by mourners at conscript's funeral

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou was mobbed by hundreds of angry mourners on Sunday as he attended the funeral service for a young conscript who died after allegedly being abused by his officers.

Protestors, including relatives and sympathisers, shouted "We want truth" as Mr Ma, protected by security guards, made his way to the funeral site at the soldier's home in the central city of Taichung.

The service was held a day after more than 100,000 people took to the streets of the capital Taipei to protest over the death of Corporal Hung Chung-chiu and the "sloppy" military investigation of the case.

Mr Hung died of heatstroke on July 4 - apparently after being forced to exercise excessively as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base - just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

Mr Ma pledged no such tragedy would recur in the military as he offered his condolences to the family.

"As the president and the leader of the country's three armed forces, I hereby guarantee that Hung Chung-chiu will not have died in vain and such a tragedy will not happen again," Mr Ma told Mr Hung's father Hung Chi-tuan.

A total of 18 military officials were indicted last week over Mr Hung's death, including the former commander of his brigade, after military prosecutors completed their investigation.

They were indicted on charges ranging from abuse leading to death and involuntary manslaughter to imposing illegal punishment on a subordinate and offences against personal liberty.

Four detained suspects were separately released by a military court on bail last week, fuelling public anger.

"The four are likely to further collude with each other. Why they were released on a bail?" Mr Hung's father asked Mr Ma.

The president said military prosecutors had appealed against the court's ruling.

Saturday's rally was the second mass protest since the corporal's death.

About 30,000 people demonstrated outside the defence ministry in the capital on July 20, according to the activist group that organised the protests.

Mr Ma has apologised for the incident and defence minister Kao Hua-chu stepped down to take political responsibility for the soldier's death.

Mr Hung's family said he was repeatedly refused water during the punishment despite being close to collapse and that he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by superiors.

Analysts have said his death has dealt a blow to the defence ministry's plans for a professional military.

The ministry wants to phase out its decades-old compulsory 12 months of service by the end of 2015, replacing it with four months of military training for men aged over 20.

The government hopes volunteers will then enlist for a longer period of military service, making for a better trained, more highly skilled military.

In the six months to June the military recruited just 1,847 people - 31 percent of its target of 5,887. The defence ministry had planned to recruit 17,447 people before the end of February next year.