Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou to address public as student protesters dig in

Island’s president will press case for cross-strait trade pact as sit-in of parliament enters day six

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 9:54am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will address the island's public for the first time today on the crisis triggered by opposition to a cross-strait trade pact.

Protesters have been occupying the parliament building in Taipei since Tuesday.

The presidential office announced yesterday that Ma would hold a press conference this morning to "address public doubts and opinions about the cross-strait service and trade pact", as well as the significance and necessity of such a pact.

Since the student protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday night, Ma has only issued statements through his office, despite repeated calls by protesters to meet him.

The announcement of the press conference followed a meeting of Ma and his top aides, including Premier Dr Jiang Yi-huah and Vice-President Wu Den-yih, at his residence last night. But the Central New Agency reported that Ma would not withdraw the pact.

Earlier in the afternoon, the first dialogue between Jiang and the protesters outside the Legislative Yuan failed to yield results. Jiang said the government would not withdraw the trade pact with the mainland, rejecting calls to stop its ratification.

Jiang walked to the parliament building surrounded by bodyguards as some protesters jostled and shouted "step down" in footage broadcast live.

"The cabinet sent the services trade pact to parliament because we think it will help Taiwan's liberalisation and internationalisation. We do not plan to withdraw [it]," Jiang told the crowd gathered on the streets outside.

The agreement is designed to open up further trade in services between the mainland and Taiwan. The protesters say it will damage Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing, allegations rejected by Ma's ruling Kuomintang, which warns that failure to ratify the agreement would set back Taiwan's efforts to seek more free trade agreements.

Protesters have demanded Ma "return" to Beijing the services trade pact, signed in July. More than 200 students stormed the parliament's main chamber on Tuesday and have remained there, the first such occupation of the building in Taiwan's history.