TAIWAN

Students threaten huge rally to pressure Ma Ying-jeou to drop trade pact with Beijing

Protesters who occupied legislature increase their focus on island's president

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 10:05am

Students occupying the Taiwanese legislature to oppose a services trade pact with the mainland vowed yesterday to mobilise thousands of protesters to demonstrate in front of the office of the island's president, Ma Ying-jeou, on Sunday.

The announcement prompted Ma to soften his stance by agreeing to discuss with the students their demands, including stopping a review of the pact in parliament and passing a law to supervise all future agreements signed by Taipei and Beijing.

Protestors fear the trade agreement, which will give Taiwan and the mainland greater access to each other's service sectors, will cost jobs on the island. They also fear closer ties with Beijing pose a threat to Taiwan's democracy.

"I call upon all of our friends, regardless of whether they are students or how old they are, to join us in the protest to be held on March 30," said Lin Fei-fan, the main organiser of the occupation of parliament.

About 200 students seized the legislature on March 18 after the government went back on an agreement to review the trade pact line by line in parliament.

Lin called for a record turnout to fill the avenue leading from the Presidential Office to the legislature in order to put pressure on Ma to heed the demonstrators' demands.

"There will be no end to the protest" until Ma compromises, Lin told reporters. Ma had previously agreed to talk to the students, but with no preconditions.

His office later released a statement saying Ma was willing to have "extensive and substantive" talks with student leaders on any issues relating to pact. It called for a positive response from the students.

Commenting on Sunday's planned demonstration, a spokeswoman for the presidential office, Garfie Li, said the public had the right and freedom to express their views. She called for the protest to be held in a peaceful and rational manner.

The protests over the trade pact escalated late on Sunday when police in riot gear used water cannons to remove students who had forced their way into government offices close to the legislature.

More than 110 people were injured. Former president Lee Teng-hui yesterday expressed concern over the action, saying a leader should listen to the students instead of using force to remove them.

Meanwhile, the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office yesterday held its annual conference on cross-strait economic ties in Jiangxi . The office asked local governments to "step up efforts to deepen cross-strait industrial co-operation, expand two-way investments [and] improve the investment environment", Xinhua reported.