Occupying Taiwan's parliament

Occupying Taiwan's parliament

TAIPEI - ''If you cannot tell where the rubbish should go, I will stuff your head inside!''

The cheerful threat on the hand-scrawled notice, perched above a collection point for carefully sorted trash, is probably the most outwardly autocratic sign in Taiwan's parliament.

The legislative chamber has been occupied by students and other activists since early last week in protest over a service trade pact with China.

But there are no rowdy fights that Taiwanese legislators are notorious for. Instead, there is a display of camaraderie and goodwill, with the occupiers holding small-group discussions in the day and sing-a-longs at night before bedding down amid the pews where lawmakers usually sit.

Near the podium under founding father Sun Yat-sen's giant portrait where the Speaker sits, daily necessities are neatly arranged for whoever needs them. To show solidarity, most wear the same luridly green or red plastic slippers that came from the same donor.

As the occupation moves into its 11th day and as the initial euphoria from capturing the parliament begins to flag, the students are also learning to grapple with all the messiness of the democracy they say they are championing.

It is just one of the reasons a meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou, an invitation he extended on Tuesday, is unlikely to happen in the next few days. Neither does the stand-off look like it is going to end any time soon.

In fact, the students kicked things up a notch on Thursday by calling for a protest march on Sunday, which will end in a rally in front of the Presidential Office.

They also escalated their demands for both meeting Mr Ma as well as leaving the legislature.

To vacate it, they have two conditions: One is to withdraw the trade agreement to open up service sectors on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, which they say was the product of ''black box politics'' - inked with China in secret and approved by a legislature committee early last week without the clause-by-clause review that was promised. The other condition is for all legislators to support a new law to establish a mechanism that monitors future negotiations with Beijing. The ruling Kuomintang has rejected this.

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