Taiwan's government said yesterday it was open to a demand made by students occupying the legislature for a law increasing scrutiny of future pacts signed with the mainland.
Demonstrators seized control of the parliament building on March 18 because they fear a trade agreement with Beijing will lead to job losses on the island. They also argue closer ties with the mainland pose a threat to Taiwan's democracy.
"As long as there is a consensus, the cabinet will ask the Mainland Affairs Council and relevant institutions to draft the bill for legislation so that it can be used to scrutinise all future cross-strait pacts," Premier Jiang Yi-huah said at a news conference in Taipei yesterday.
President Ma Ying-jeou is scheduled to hold his own news conference today to discuss concerns about the services trade pact, which would give the mainland and Taiwan greater access to each other's service sectors.
In a meeting last night with heads of 11 universities, including the National Taiwan University, Ma reiterated his willingness to talk to student protesters. Ma spokeswoman Garfie Li said university leaders suggested setting up a communications channel between students and presidential representatives, the Central News Agency reported.
Student leaders are planning a rally outside the Presidential Office in the centre of Taipei tomorrow. They want the trade pact to be reviewed under the new legislation.
Jiang, however, said it was unlikely that the new laws would be passed or the trade pact reviewed before the end of the current legislative session on June 30.
The protests escalated late on Sunday when police in riot gear used water cannon to evict students who had stormed government offices near the parliament building. More than 110 people were injured.
The forcible eviction prompted renewed criticism of Ma's government by most local news media and sympathisers of the student-led protests, dubbed the "sunflower movement". Jiang also rejected protesters' suggestions that the trade pact be scrapped and sent back for renegotiation with the mainland.
The premier said it might jeopardise future trade agreements with other countries, who would think Taiwan was not to be trusted and went back on its word too easily.
Three groups will hold separate protests today near the legislature to call for an end to the student occupation of parliament.
One is organised by the governing Kuomintang party's National Youth Affairs Committee.
The protesters will wear carnations to differentiate themselves from the student-led protesters who have been wearing sunflowers.