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Ma not budging on China trade pact

SAYING IT WITH FLOWERS: Sunflowers being handed out to protesters, mostly young students, as a sign of support outside the Parliament in Taipei on Saturday. The protesters have been there since Tuesday night.


    Mar 24, 2014

    Ma not budging on China trade pact


    TAIWAN'S President yesterday refused to scrap a contentious trade pact with China, and denounced the "illegal" occupation of Parliament by protesters who are opposed to its ratification.

    About 200 protesters, mostly young students, broke through security barriers and took over Parliament's main chamber on Tuesday night and have remained there since - the first such occupation of the building in the island's history.

    "The student group has been occupying the Parliament's main chamber in a manner violating the law, paralysing the legislature's operation for five days," President Ma Ying-jeou said at a press conference televised live.

    "I must say that (the pact) is completely for the sake of Taiwan's economic future."

    The agreement is designed to further open up trade in services between China and Taiwan, which split 65 years ago after a civil war.

    But the protesters say the deal will damage Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from China, harming owners of small businesses in particular.

    The allegations were rejected by Mr Ma's ruling Kuomintang party, which warns that failure to ratify the agreement would be a grave setback in Taiwan's efforts to seek more free-trade agreements.

    Mr Ma, who initiated Taipei's much-touted detente with Beijing, refused to back down, calling the occupation of Parliament "illegal".

    "Let us calm down and think carefully. Is this the democracy we want? Do we have to do in this way, risking the rule of law," he said.

    "As the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title), I have to insist on the rule of law while safeguarding democracy."

    Hundreds of police attempted to end the occupation hours after it began, but failed to push their way in, with the protesters barricading the doorways with piles of armchairs.

    Premier Jiang Yi-huah walked to the Parliament building on Saturday to hold the first direct dialogue between the government and protesters but failed to reach a breakthrough.

    Mr Jiang rejected demands to withdraw the agreement but said he would support calls for its thorough review by Parliament, as some protesters outside the building shouted "send back the pact!".