President Ma Ying-jeou, protesters agree talks over Taiwan political crisis

Taiwan's leader hopes meeting can resolve row over trade pact with mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 1:17pm

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and student leaders occupying parliament have agreed to hold talks to try to end a week-long crisis sparked by growing concern over a trade service pact signed with the mainland.

The latest development came soon after the United States urged peaceful discussions to ease the stand-off, during which about 200 students seized the legislature last Tuesday.

On Monday more than 100 people were injured when police used water cannon to clear 2,000 protesters who had also stormed a government building nearby.

Watch: Taiwan riot police dislodge protesters to retake government HQ

They fear the pact will lead to fewer jobs and that closer ties with the mainland threaten democracy on the island.

"Based on the principle that no pre-conditions are set, President Ma is willing to invite representatives of the students to the presidential office for dialogue on the cross-strait trade service agreement issue," spokeswoman Garfie Li said yesterday. She said Ma hoped the talks would end the stand-off so the legislature could return to normal.

"Even after protesters violently stormed the Executive Yuan Council on the night of March 23, the president was "willing to open the door of communication … in a democratic and rational manner," Li said.

Lin Fei-fan, the main organiser of the protest, said the students would meet Ma without setting any pre-conditions.

"But we hope the dialogue will focus on the discussion of two issues that not only our fellow students but also the general public are concerned about," he said.

Lin said protesters wanted to discuss whether Taiwan needed a bill to ensure greater supervision and scrutiny of future agreements made with Beijing.

"We also want to know whether a review of the trade service pact should be conducted after completion of legislation of the supervision bill," he said.

The president has come under increasing criticism from the media in Taiwan for refusing to talk to the students. On Monday, the US State Department urged dialogue, hoping the dispute could be resolved civilly.

The students occupied the legislature after the ruling Kuomintang caucus went back on an agreement on March 17 for the trade pact to be reviewed line-by-line in parliament.

Student leader Chen Wei-ting said the meeting should be held in public so people would know what was discussed.