500,000 protesters rally in front of Presidential Office
Protest ends peacefully, occupation Legislature continues
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-30 02:29 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Up to 500,000 people gathered in front of the Presidential Office Building Sunday to voice their support for the students occupying the Legislative Yuan in protest against the trade-in-services pact with China, organizers said.

Police estimates during the afternoon, when students said 350,000 protesters had materialized, rose to 123,000 from an initial 81,000.

The students have been holding the Legislature since March 18 and plan to continue doing so until the government of President Ma Ying-jeou gives in to their demands.

The mass rally on Ketagalan Boulevard had aimed to bring together more than 100,000 people and last from 1 to 7 p.m. before a move back to the Legislative Yuan a few streets away.

Wearing black and holding sunflowers, the symbol of the student movement, thousands of people streamed together at several locations in central Taipei, some arriving on packed Mass Rapid Transit trains.

Most slogans were directed at the trade pact, but there were also people holding up placards with the call “Down with Ma Ying-jeou,” banners reading “Build an independent Taiwan” and students holding up self-made flags with the name of their university. There were reports of about a dozen protesters fainting in the hot and sunny weather.

One placard read “Dirty Commie Deals” with a stripe through it. The students reject the trade pact, signed in Shanghai last June, as too secretive and as too unequal because it makes too many concessions to China. Their key demands include the removal of the accord by the Cabinet from legislative review until after a framework law guiding talks with China in general is passed. They also want the president to call a citizens’ constitutional conference.

At a news conference timed for the eve of the mass event, Ma said he was considering the framework law and the constitutional conference, but not the withdrawal of the trade pact from the Legislative Yuan. The Cabinet announced Saturday it was going to form a special taskforce to discuss the conference idea, but at this stage it was not yet clear what it would discuss.

Students and opposition alike rejected Ma’s statements as inadequate and beside the point. Now that half a million people had taken to the streets, Ma should reconsider his position and come out again to respond to popular demands, student leader Lin Fei-fan said.

Chen Wei-ting, the other most prominent movement leader, told the crowds in front of the Presidential Office that their size proved that they were dissatisfied with Ma’s response to the demands. “Everyone has seen through his lies,” Chen said.

“The student protesters are not against relations with China, but the people should decide together how those relations with China are managed,” he added.

Ma had promised Beijing that the trade pact would be approved by June, so he has no room left to allow the people to review the accord, Chen said. “What he was pursuing was not the future of Taiwan’s people, but his common agreement with the Chinese government and his place in history,” according to the student leader.

Delegations of attorneys and physicians also mounted the main stage to express their support for the students. A total of 418 lawyers had pledged their support to the protesters in the event they had to be defended against legal charges, reports said.

Close to the end of the event, overseas students sang the “Song of the Sunflower” as a symbol of their movement while waving their cell phones.

In his speech at the end of the rally in front of the Presidential Office Building, Lin said the movement’s occupation of the Legislature had already written history. He rejected praise for his own role, saying all the students and protesters earned praise for the success.

“The people are the general conductor of this country,” he said. “President Ma, please accept the people as your general conductor.” As long as the Ma Administration did not make any concrete promises, the occupation could not stop, he said to loud applause.

The plan was for lights on the main stage to be dimmed at 7 p.m. and for the crowds to move over to the Legislative Yuan, but Lin said that if the move was difficult to complete by midnight and if there were too many participants, a stage would be set up on Chunghsiao East Road. In the end, the event on Ketagalan Boulevard finished at 7:42 p.m., leading to serious overcrowding at nearby MRT stations.

The students promised a peaceful and non-violent protest, rejecting accusations from critics that they planned takeovers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or even the Presidential Office Building. On March 23, a small group of students invaded the Executive Yuan and held it until the next morning, when a riot police force using batons and water cannons expelled them.

An estimated 6,000 police officers had been mobilized to deal with the crowds while a vast area of central Taipei surrounding the Presidential Office and his official residence had been locked up behind barriers and barbed wire.

Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah had canceled all their public appearances for the day and would stay in close contact with police and national security officials, reports said. Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin planned to spend the night at the city government if the protesters failed to leave Ketagalan Boulevard by midnight Sunday, reports said.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party supported the demands of the students but asked its members to attend as private citizens without banners or clothes identifying them. Chairman Su Tseng-chang, ex-chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, former premiers Frank Hsieh and Yu Shyi-kun and former Vice President Annette Lu all appeared, dressed in black, and sitting on the road in separate locations.

Independent Taipei City mayoral contender Ko Wen-je appeared at the protest dressed in black. He told reporters that liberalization and internationalization of the economy were not problems, but that Taiwan should be more careful with China because it “shouts its One China policy so loudly.” He also warned against the impact of more free trade on the less fortunate segments of society.

The son of imprisoned former President Chen Shui-bian, Chen Chih-chung, was interviewed by a cable station as he joined the Taipei protest.

On the same day, Taiwanese students and their sympathizers also protested at sit-ins and marches in 49 cities in 17 countries around the world, organizers said. About 1,000 Taiwanese and Hong Kong people took to the streets in the special administrative region of China and shouted their support for the Taiwanese students and their opposition against police repression.

Student leader Lin Fei-fan stayed at the Legislative Yuan until 3:20 p.m. in order to link up with solidarity protests in Tokyo and Kyoto and only took a short walk outside before returning. Activists were reportedly concerned that the government might try to reclaim the Legislative Yuan during their absence.

At the same time, near the Taipei Railway Station, a counterdemonstration materialized with at least hundreds of people wearing white and waving national flags calling for the students to leave the Legislative Yuan and return to campus. No incidents were reported beyond protesters from both camps shouting at each other. On Saturday, three similar protests took place, with participants brandishing carnations as their symbol.

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