What’s the burning issue that motivated students to take such extreme measures?
The issue looms large: it’s about our big brother across the Straits.
The Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) was negotiated and signed in June 2013 behind closed doors. Those that champion this treaty, the KMT, argue it will open the service industry, such as hotels, restaurants, cinema, to Chinese business insisting that this pact will be a positive step for Taiwan’s economy.
“This [trade service agreement with China] is a necessary step for us to head out [to the world]”, said Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch.
As the occupation enters day five, however, the ultimatum announced on Thursday, demanding that President Ma Ying-jeou withdraw the controversial trade agreement and issue an apology by noon Friday has not been met or addressed yet.
Protesters disappointed by the government’s failure to respond to their ultimatum stated on Friday that they plan to not only continue their efforts at the Legislative Yuan but also consider expanding efforts to other locations, such as the Presidential Palace or Residence.
Since the occupation, the police has been trying to remove the protesters from the assembly floor and building. The efforts by the police have, however, died down after day two due to the increasing amount of protesters surrounding the building and the lack of authority to use riot police from officials.
As of March 19th, Taiwan’s state news agency reported that 38 police officers were injured and 4 protesters were arrested.
With the occupation protest gaining widespread international media coverage, Amnesty International also released a statement requesting that Taiwanese security forces must protect and respect human rights in any responses. “Force should only be used as a last resort. The authorities must ensure the rights of all those protesting are upheld and respected,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International East Asia Research Director.
Currently, no one is able to predict when the occupation protest will end or when their demands will be met. Speculations online have pointed towards a possible riot police force dispersion in the near future.
The KMT lawmakers are said to have agreed on Friday to discuss and vote on the controversial trade agreement article-by-article in the legislative floor on Monday. The KMT further said that if the legislature can not be cleared by Monday, KMT lawmakers will not attend the meeting.
Lin Hung-chih, KMT legislator and chief director of the Policy Committee said that “it’s not our business to comment” when asked about whether or not riot forces will be used to remove protesters.
The blame for this issue has largely been thrown around as KMT lawmakers point at DPP for not allowing them to follow through with the originally planned committee review of the trade pact and DPP blame KMT for forcing, the KMT majority, parliament to vote on the agreement without a clause by clause review in committee.
President Ma has yet to address the protesters, stating that the trade agreement needs to be passed before this parliament session ends in June.
An opinion poll released last week by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research found that 44.5 percent of respondents opposed the trade deal, while 32.8 percent supported it and 22.9 percent did not respond. A majority, 73.7 percent, said they endorsed a clause by clause review of the agreement.
Update 3/22 (5:24 PM):
Premier Jiang Yi-huah, accompanied by Education Minister Chiang Wei-ling and numerous security guards, has arrived at the Legislative Yuan Saturday afternoon to talk with protesters inside the legislative floor. In response to the demand that the trade agreement be scrapped and denied, Premier Jiang stated that the Executive Yuan, one of the five government branches in Taiwan, has no intention of doing so but he does hope to see it reviewed clause by clause in the Legislative Yuan.
The protesters have requested Premier Jiang to step down in the ultimatum announced on Thursday. With this latest update, a compromise between the occupying protesters and the government is still unable to be met.
Update 3/24 (11:31 AM):
On Sunday at 10 PM, President Ma held an international press conference responding, after 6 days, to the protesters’ appeal. The response, however, disappointed protesters as they claim that the President’s message was incomplete. Ma stated that “the pact must be passed for the sake of Taiwan’s economic future,” noting that the retraction of the agreement would hurt Taiwan as a credible international trading partner. He also dismissed claims that the pact would hurt the island’s economy. Regarding protesters’ appeal to have a mechanism created to insure all negotiations and agreements with China are transparent and supervised properly, Ma stated that Article 5 of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area provides legal grounds for supervision, since the administration is required to send all cross-Taiwan Strait accords to the Legislative Yuan. Ma, however, did agree to have a clause by clause review of the trade agreement in parliament, something the KMT promised but failed to do so before the protest started.
Protesters, unhappy and disappointed by the response of the president early Sunday, stormed the Executive Yuan Sunday night. The group occupying the Legislative Yuan stated, in a Facebook post, that they did not organize the storming of the Executive Yuan but called on protesters to help support the on-going action.
The occupation at the Executive Yuan was immediately called “illegal and violent” as 2500 police officers were dispatched to stop the action and evict the protesters storming the building. Riot police in full gear along with water cannon vehicles later arrived at the site. The police general vowed to remove all protester from the site before Monday commute .
The removal of over 500 protesters from the Executive Yuan compound took place pass midnight and continued through early Monday morning.
Taiwanese media coverage showed protesters getting beaten and sprayed by water cannons.
At the end of the chaos, over 137 people were hospitalized and 58 arrested.
Above images provided by CNA
By: Connor L., Vivian L., and Berry S.