Demonstrators holding sunflowers shout slogans in front of
the Presidential Office in Taipei. REUTERS/Toby Chang
More than 100,000 protesters have taken to the streets of
Taiwan's capital as a two-week-long campaign against a trade
pact with China gathered steam, piling further pressure on the
The rally in Taipei - where many were dressed in black and
some clutched sunflowers to symbolize hope - was one of the
largest in recent years in Taiwan, an island that split from
China over six decades ago after a civil war.
Protesters say the deal to open 80 of China's service sectors
to Taiwan and 64 Taiwanese sectors to China was rushed
through, and could leave Taiwan increasingly beholden to
China's Communist Party leaders.
Some called for the resignation of Taiwan's China-friendly
president Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity has plunged despite
helping to improve ties with China since taking office in
"We must safeguard our island's interests," said Chin Mei
Ching, a 29-year-old mother who was pushing her one-year-old
daughter in a buggy. "We have to guard against China using
the economy to control us."
A coalition of student and civil groups behind the
demonstration said that around 500,000 people had massed in
streets near the Presidential Palace and the parliament
building that has been occupied by protesters for nearly a
Police put the figure at 116,000.
Police erected steel barricades to prevent protesters from
reaching major government buildings including the cabinet
offices that were raided by students last Sunday, sparking
scuffles and the use of water cannon by police.
"We will not back down," Lin Fei Fan, one of the student
leaders behind the occupation of Taiwan's legislature, told
Reuters inside the building. "The large turnout today shows
there is a clear majority in Taiwan that demands President Ma
address our concerns in an acceptable manner."
Activists have plastered anti-Ma banners on the legislature
walls, and stacks of armchairs block the exits.
Ma has said the trade agreement is necessary for Taiwan's
economic future, but opponents say the deal could hurt small
Taiwanese companies. Many also worry the pact will allow
Beijing to expand its influence over a fiercely independent
and proudly democratic territory that China sees as a
"Save Democracy, Don't Sell Our Country," read a banner on
The trade pact was signed by China and Taiwan last June as a
way to boost economic cooperation between the two sides but
has yet to be formally ratified by Taiwan's legislature.
"China is using economic methods to invade Taiwan," said
protester Liou Jong-yuan, a 47-year-old engineer.
The protest could strain the recent rapprochement between
Taiwan and China, particularly if Ma capitulates on the trade
deal that the protesters want scrapped.
Ma Ying-jeou said on Saturday the protests would not affect
the potential for a meeting with Chinese President Xi
Jinping. Both sides have expressed interest in a historic
meeting between their leaders, though no timeframe or venue
has been set.
Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the
Communists won China's civil war in 1949.