Tens of thousands take to streets to widen protest over China pact (update)
Central News Agency
2014-03-30 04:00 PM
Taipei, March 30 (CNA) Tens of thousands of people joined a rally in front of the Presidential Office Sunday to expand a protest over a controversial service trade pact with China and voice their support for the protesters, mostly students, who are still occupying Taiwan's Legislature to oppose the pact. A mass sit-in was staged at the demonstration that began at 1:00 p.m. on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and nearby Zhongshan South Road. By 2:00 p.m., police authorities have counted 81,000 participants, including 1,900 in the Legislature, 9,100 outside of the legislative compound, 15,000 on Ketagalan Boulevard, 22,000 at Jingfu Gate (East Gate) and 33,000 along Zhongshan South Road, Taipei City police said.

The National Police Agency (NPA) said Taipei City government has deployed 3,000 police officers to "maintain order" and "control traffic" in and around the rally site, with another 500 NPA police being assigned to keep order at the Legislature.

Protesters dressed in black to show their discontent over what they consider a "black-box" deal, or the government's non-transparent handling of the trade-in-services agreement. The demonstrators, wearing yellow ribbons that read "Oppose Service Pact, Save Taiwan," chanted slogans such as "Protect Our Democracy. Withdraw Trade Deal" while carrying sunflowers, a symbol of the protests, which have been dubbed the "Sunflower Movement." Fan Kang-hao, a graduate student at National Taiwan University, said that any trade pact will have an impact on the country's young people, who are already hard-hit by problems such as high housing prices and poverty. "Don't we have the right to care?" asked Fan, one of the initiators of a nationwide strike to boycott classes in opposition to the trade pact. The rally in front of the Presidential Office is scheduled to end at 7 p.m. Afterward, the protesters are expected to return to the Legislative Yuan a few blocks away to continue their occupation of its main chamber, where they have laid siege since March 18 in protest against the pact inked with China in June last year. In a press conference the previous day, President Ma Ying-jeou expressed support for a proposal by the protesters that a law be enacted to subject all agreements with China to close scrutiny, but rejected their demand that the legislative process of the trade-in-services pact be halted until such an oversight mechanism is legalized. The students were dissatisfied with Ma's response, seeing it as a failure to meet their demands, and pledged to continue with their demonstration. The student-led protesters' occupation of the Legislature was a reaction to an attempt by the ruling Kuomintang to send the agreement straight to a vote on the legislative floor, bypassing legislative committee review. The protesters are worried that the pact will give China too much economic influence over Taiwan and hurt the country's small and medium-sized enterprises. The government, on the other hand, argues that the service pact will benefit Taiwan's economy and help it join other regional free trade blocs. (By Christie Chen)

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