Thousands rally in Taipei to counter anti-government protests

TAIPEI - Thousands of Taiwanese calling for peace and the rule of law rallied in Taipei Sunday to counter a recent series of demonstrations that turned violent and led to clashes with police.

Police estimated that about 1,500 people from the ruling Kuomintang party and their supporters rallied in the downtown area, ending up with a march to police headquarters.

Demonstrators voiced gratitude to police for maintaining peace in the demonstrations since March.

Police estimated 15,000 turned out for a separate gathering organised by the right-wing New Party, which is friendly to the Kuomintang.

Waving Taiwan flags, the crowd kicked off the event by singing the national anthem. Chanting "Long Live the Republic of China" (Taiwan's official title), demonstrators fired salvos at Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, the most prominent student leaders during the island's first-ever occupation of parliament starting on March 18.

"What is their contribution to the country? They acted wildly in defiance of the law," an angry Yok Mu-ming, chairman of the New Party, told the crowd.

Activist Wang Ping-chung labelled the pair as "fascists".

There has been a series of protests against a controversial services trade pact with China and a contentious nuclear power plant.

In the student-led demonstrations against the trade pact with China, protesters occupied parliament and also stormed the top government headquarters.

Opponents say the services deal would damage Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from China.

In late April, an estimated 28,500 protesters blockaded a main street in the capital calling for the scrapping of a nearly completed nuclear power plant, prompting police to use water cannon to dislodge the demonstrators.

President Ma Ying-jeou has overseen a marked thaw in relations with Beijing since he came to power in 2008 pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links. He was re-elected in January 2012.

His party says the island needs the new nuclear plant to ensure electricity supplies, while opponents say it would be too dangerous in an earthquake-prone zone.