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Students welcome president’s invitation to discussion
Presidential Office phones student, but legislative talks break down
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-25 03:43 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Leaders of the students occupying the Legislative Yuan gave a cautious welcome to an invitation by President Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday to meet him for a discussion about the cross-straits trade pact without any preconditions.

Talks between legislative caucuses to discuss the stalemate over the trade-in-services pact with China broke down Tuesday afternoon, almost one week after hundreds of angry students occupied the Legislature to demand the accord’s rejection and an apology from the president.

The crisis started when on March 17 the ruling Kuomintang used its majority to declare the pact’s review process by eight committees over and hand the issue to a full legislative session. The review, which should have included a clause-by-clause discussion and votes about the pact signed last June, never took place.

Presidential spokeswoman Garfie Li said the Legislature was still paralyzed, with the students’ action affecting the operations of the assembly and government in general.

If the students responded positively to Ma’s proposal, the Presidential Office would send a representative to hand over an invitation, Li said. She emphasized the president was willing to listen to the delegation in order to resolve the present deadlock and assist the Legislative Yuan to resume normal activities.

Ma said he appreciated the efforts of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to find common ground between ruling camp and opposition lawmakers and he respected the autonomy of the Legislature, but in order to allow the nation’s politics to return to its normal track as soon as possible, he and the executive branch were considering all possible options, Li said.

In their reaction to Ma’s offer, the protesters said they were willing to meet him if there were no preconditions, but they also called on both main political parties to promise first to pass a law providing a framework for negotiations with China before reviewing the trade pact. The Cabinet should also withdraw the accord from consideration at the Legislative Yuan, the students said, warning that if the framework law was not approved first, last week’s scenes might be repeated with the KMT majority again forcing the trade deal through.

One student leader, Chen Wei-ting, called on Ma to conduct the conversation with the activists out in the open, maybe even on Ketagalan Boulevard, the road in front of the Presidential Office Building popular with demonstrators.

Asked how the students would handle an eventual withdrawal from the Legislature, activist Lin Fei-fan said it was the president who should be concerned about how he extricated himself from the current situation.

Just before 6 p.m., an unidentified representative of the Presidential Office phoned Lin to discuss time and place for the meeting with Ma, media reported. The student leader reportedly replied he still had to discuss the proposals with his colleagues, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Tsai Chi-chang said he would respect the students’ decision, but he called on the president not to establish any preconditions, not to set any timetable for the passage of the trade pact nor to demand that no amendments at all should be made.

KMT lawmaker Chi Kuo-tung said a meeting at the Presidential Office was one way to dissolve the stalemate, but it was not unprecedented, since then-President Lee Teng-hui had also met protesting students more than two decades ago.

Chinese democracy activist Wang Dan, who has voiced support for the student occupation, welcomed Ma’s offer but he cautioned that if the president did not give any hope for changes, the meeting might end without results.

As the president made his offer, lawmakers from several parties were still talking to each other at the official residence of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, but without results, reports said. Lawmakers present reportedly included top DPP members Ker Chien-ming and Lawrence Kao, Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu and KMT chief whip Lin Hung-chih. After about two hours, the meeting broke up without results, leading Ker to tell reporters that they would now have to wait until after a meeting between Ma and the students to see whether more negotiations were needed.

The KMT reportedly still refused to have the trade pact sent back to the committee stage. Both sides understood each other’s stance and agreed to go and take a closer look at them, Wang said in a statement after the talks broke down. He called on the two sides to strengthen mutual understanding to restore order.

Inside the Legislative Yuan, the occupiers set up a wall with the pictures and names of all lawmakers, inviting them to come in and place their signature if they agreed with the protest demands. Taiwan Solidarity Union legislator Yeh Chin-lin was reportedly the first to sign.

The invitation from the president for a meeting came after a court ordered the release without bail of a student accused of organizing Sunday night’s surprise invasion of the Executive Yuan.

Meanwhile, the students continued their occupation of the Legislative Yuan started March 18 and originally called for 63 hours. When the president failed to respond, the activists continued their protest. On Sunday evening, a minority group suddenly scaled barriers to enter the Executive Yuan building, the main office used by Premier Jiang Yi-huah and his top staff.

Only a police crackdown succeeded in dislodging the students Monday morning. Prosecutors accused one student, Dennis Wei, of being the main conspirator behind the action and requested a court to approve his detention. However, in a major triumph for the student movement, the court decided after two hours of discussion Monday night that there was no evidence against Wei. It released the National Tsing Hua University sociology student without bail.

His parents said he was not even in Taipei when the invasion started but on a bus traveling up from Hsinchu City. Wei plays a prominent role in the Black Island Nation Youth Front, a movement which has played a role in several large-scale protests over the past year.

At the Taipei City Council, DPP councilors boycotted the administration of Mayor Hau Lung-bin Tuesday over allegations of police brutality during the evacuation of the Executive Yuan.

Of the more than 200 people injured during the protests, seven were still in hospital Tuesday noon, according to official statistics. The protests have also been marred by incidents such as knife attacks by suspected members of motorcycle gangs opposing the protest, while a 59-year-old man reportedly tried to set himself on fire Tuesday morning in a sign of support for the students.

Lawmakers on Tuesday rejected rumors that they were about to abandon their Taipei building and move to Taichung to hold important meetings.

In addition to students sitting at or around the Legislative Yuan, student groups were also calling for strikes at schools and factories or launching petitions. One of those, launched at the National Cheng Chi University and demanding the resignation of Premier Jiang Yi-huah, was signed by Lien Yung-hsin, the younger daughter of KMT Honorary President Lien Chan and sister of Taipei City mayoral contender Sean Lien.

A spokesman for the former vice president said that her father did not know beforehand she would sign, and that she had mainly done so out of concern for violence.

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