Shoe-throwing protesters take aim at Ma

TAIPEI - Thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei in a series of protests yesterday, throwing shoes at a portrait of beleaguered President Ma Ying-jeou and demanding that he steps down.

The demonstrators asked Mr Ma, who is also chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), to take responsibility for the economic sluggishness and controversial government policies that have pushed his approval ratings down.

Hundreds of angry protesters gathered at a rally barricaded by police outside the presidential residence in downtown Taipei in the morning.

Television images showed the protesters chanting slogans and holding signs reading "Down with Ma Ying-jeou!"

At nearly the same time, hundreds of people from another group - the "National Alliance of Workers from National Factory Shutdowns" - vented their anger in another part of the capital, throwing shoes at portraits of Mr Ma and other politicians.

Pressure on the Ma administration has mounted since workers lost their jobs following the mass shifting of assembly lines from the island to the Chinese mainland, to capitalise on cheap manpower and lower land prices there.

Mr Ma swept to victory in the 2008 presidential polls on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links with China. He was re-elected for a second and final four-year term in January last year.

However, his approval ratings took a big hit later that year, after a bribery scandal implicating top Cabinet official Lin Yi-shih, formerly a KMT vice-chairman and one of his key confidants.

Mr Ma suffered another blow when another of his top aides, Lai Su-ju, was taken into custody in March over bribery charges.

The latest controversy arose earlier this month, when the KMT kicked parliamentary Speaker Wang Jin-pyng out of the party over accusations that he meddled in a lawmaker's court case.