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Over 110,000 take to streets to widen protest over China pact (update-2)

2014/03/30 18:28:41

Taipei, March 30 (CNA) Over 110,000 people joined a rally in front of the Presidential Office Sunday to expand a protest over a controversial service trade pact with China and voice their support for the protesters, mostly students, who are still occupying Taiwan's Legislature to oppose the pact.

A mass sit-in was staged at the demonstration that began at 1:00 p.m. on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and nearby Zhongshan South Road.

Protesters dressed in black to show their discontent over what they consider a "black-box" deal, or the government's non-transparent handling of the trade-in-services agreement.

The demonstrators, wearing yellow ribbons that read "Oppose Service Pact, Save Taiwan," chanted slogans such as "Protect Our Democracy. Withdraw Trade Deal" while carrying sunflowers, a symbol of the protests, which have been dubbed the "Sunflower Movement."

Fan Kang-hao, a graduate student at National Taiwan University, said that any trade pact will have an impact on the country's young people, who are already hard-hit by problems such as high housing prices and poverty.

"Don't we have the right to care?" asked Fan, one of the initiators of a nationwide strike to boycott classes in opposition to the trade pact.

By 4:00 p.m., police authorities have counted 116,000 participants, including 15,000 in and around the Legislature, and 101,000 on Ketagalan Boulevard and nearby Zhongshan South Road, Taipei City police said.

The National Police Agency (NPA) said the Taipei city government has deployed 3,000 police officers to maintain order and control traffic in and around the rally site, with another 500 police assigned to keep order at the Legislature.

Organizers, meanwhile, claimed that at least 400,000 people had taken to the streets.

"We are not entirely against the services trade pact. Free trade is good for a country, but we are against the way it was signed," said T.Y. Chang, 32, who came to the rally with his friends.

Chang said the service trade pact cannot be compared to the trade pacts Taiwan signed with New Zealand and Singapore because China is not a democratic country and it is a much larger economy than Taiwan, and cross-strait relations "have always involved not only economic issues but political ones."

The Democratic Front Against the Cross-Strait Trade-in-Services Agreement, one of the organizers of the rally, reiterated its call on the government to withdraw the service pact and refrain from negotiating or signing new agreements with China until a law to monitor such pacts is enacted.

It also again urged lawmakers to support such a bill drafted by civic groups and the government to convene a "civic constitutional meeting" to discuss the pact.

The rally in front of the Presidential Office was scheduled to end at 7 p.m. Afterward, the protesters are expected to return to the Legislative Yuan a few blocks away to continue their occupation of its main chamber, where they have laid siege since March 18 in protest against the pact inked with China in June last year.

In a press conference the previous day, President Ma Ying-jeou expressed support for a proposal by the protesters that a law be enacted to subject all agreements with China to close scrutiny, but rejected their demand that the legislative process of the trade-in-services pact be halted until such an oversight mechanism is legalized.

The students were dissatisfied with Ma's response, seeing it as a failure to meet their demands, and pledged to continue with their demonstration.

The student-led protesters' occupation of the Legislature was a reaction to an attempt by the ruling Kuomintang to send the agreement straight to a vote on the legislative floor, bypassing legislative committee review.

The protesters are worried that the pact will give China too much economic influence over Taiwan and hurt the country's small and medium-sized enterprises.

The government, on the other hand, argues that the service pact will benefit Taiwan's economy and help it join other regional free trade blocs.

(By Christie Chen)

Related stories:
●March 30: Anti-service trade pact protest draws 500 in Hong Kong
●March 30: Hundreds rally to demand pact protesters go back to school

(Click here for the latest on the ongoing protest and developments since the Legislature occupation starting March 18.)