Taiwan Premier Jiang Yi-huah 'willing to talk' about trade pact with student protesters

Jiang Yi-huah tries to make peace after police clash with students who stormed government office in Taipei over cross-strait trade deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 12:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 9:43am

Taiwan's government yesterday appeared to soften its stance towards demonstrators occupying the government's parliament building by agreeing to hold talks with protest leaders.

The move came after police forcibly removed some 2,000 demonstrators who had stormed a nearby government headquarters building in Taipei.

"I am willing to have talks with representatives from the protest group and exchange views with them, as long as they don't set any preconditions," Premier Dr Jiang Yi-huah said.

Watch: Taiwan riot police dislodge protesters to retake government HQ

The demonstrators are angry about a trade pact with the mainland which they believe will cause job losses in Taiwan.

Jiang said the government had never ruled out debates with any opposition groups, including the leaders of the opposition parties, as it would "expose the pros and cons of the pact and improve communications between political parties and different social sectors". He said this would help ease public misgivings and resolve the stand-off.

He said he was even open to discussing the 24 articles of the trade pact with the students. He said he wanted to ask them why they insisted on stopping the review of the pact, when originally the students only demanded that it be reviewed item by item.

The protesters who stormed the government offices broke through barbed wire to get to the Executive Yuan complex.

While most rallied in the compound's courtyard, about 100 used ladders to get into the main building where Jiang works.

Some demonstrators were seen on television looting and vandalising government offices.

Jiang said this had forced him to deploy the police to remove the demonstrators, as any occupation of the Executive Yuan would seriously disrupt the operation of the government.

"There is no way we can allow the country's top administrative body to be usurped or occupied."

More than 137 people were injured and 61 students arrested after riot police armed with batons and water cannon broke up the demonstrators in the early hours of yesterday.

Students, some bleeding and bruised, pledged to continue their protest over the governing party's decision to renege on a promised line-by-line review in parliament of the trade deal.

"How could they treat us like rioters? We are just plain students," said weeping student Huang Pei-feng.

"This won't stop us. We will continue our protest until [President] Ma Ying-jeou scraps the trade service pact," said another student, Alex Chen, after he was dragged to the ground by police.

Protesters first occupied the parliament building in Taipei last Tuesday. Members of the Black Island Nation Youth Front, the main organiser of the occupation, said storming the offices was the idea of a small group.

The leader of the students occupying the legislature, Lin Fei-fan, said yesterday that they disagreed with the action, but shared the same goal.

"We will continue to use a peaceful approach to attain our aim," Lin said.

He called for workers to strike and students to boycott classes. More than 1,400 students from 28 student unions across Taiwan have boycotted classes.

There are so far no reports of plans for industrial stoppages.