Protesters consider ending occupation of Taiwan's parliament

Protesters consider ending occupation of Taiwan's parliament
Student protesters have occupied parliament for more than two weeks over a contentious trade agreement with China in a bid to pressure the embattled government.

TAIPEI - Protesters said Monday they were considering ending their three-week occupation of Taiwan's parliament, after its Speaker intervened to try to end the standoff over a contentious services trade pact with China.

"Discussions about the direction of the movement are now under way," said Shih Yen-ting, a spokesman for the Sunflower movement which is staging the first parliamentary occupation in the island's history.

"Hopefully there will be a conclusion by early this evening," he said, as the number of protesters occupying the main chamber dwindled to dozens from a peak of around 200.

Parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng of the ruling Kuomintang party entered the chamber Sunday to meet students.

He pledged not to preside over further parliamentary debate about the pact until a law has been introduced to monitor such agreements with China. Protesters described his promise as a "goodwill" gesture.

Calls for the demonstrators to quit parliament have been rising even among some of their sympathisers.

"Now it's a opportune time to leave parliament," said Rex How, a publisher who quit as an adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou in protest at the pact with China.

Local media speculated that the protesters would leave following Wang's concession.

But unconfirmed reports said some radical student groups had refused to back down.

Politicians from both ruling and opposition parties have been meeting the students since the occupation, but Sunday was the first time that the speaker had entered the chamber since it was seized.

Around 200 student-led demonstrators occupied the chamber on March 18 and swiftly drew a large crowd of supporters, with more than 10,000 congregated outside at one point.

There were violent clashes on March 23 when baton-wielding police turned water cannon on protesters who had stormed the nearby government headquarters.

And on March 30 tens of thousands gathered to pressure the embattled President Ma to retract the trade pact, which they say will damage Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from China Ma, who has pursued closer ties with China since taking power in 2008, has agreed to the students' demand for a law to monitor all pacts with China, but the protesters have rejected the government's bill.

The latest pact would further open up trade in services between China and Taiwan, which split 65 years ago after a civil war.

Ma has said failure to ratify the pact would be a grave setback to efforts by trade-reliant Taiwan to seek more free trade agreements and avoid isolation as regional economic blocs emerge.

The deal is a follow-up agreement to a sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between China and Taiwan.

Ma has overseen a marked thaw in relations with Beijing since he came to power pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links.

He was re-elected in January 2012 but his approval ratings are currently only around 10 per cent.

China still considers Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.

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