Hundreds of students occupy Taiwan’s Legislature to protest China pact

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(CNN)

Hundreds of students remained barricaded in Taiwan’s Legislature early Wednesday in protest of the ruling party’s push for a trade pact with China, which demonstrators claim will hurt the island.

The protesters, mostly university students, entered the main assembly hall inside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on Tuesday night and blocked the entrances with chairs, according to images and accounts filed from the scene with CNN iReport.

Police responded but had not dispersed the protesters, who also filled the streets around the Legislature in the center of Taipei.

The students said they plan to occupy the Legislature until Friday’s session, when the pact was to be deliberated.

Taiwan’s state news agency reported that 38 police officers were injured when more than 400 protesters took over the Legislature.

Four protesters were arrested in two unsuccessful attempts to evict them, the news agency reported. Police said there were more than 2,000 protesters both inside and outside the building, with a equal number of officers on the scene.

“We do not want to clash with the police,” said protester and iReporter Shanny Chang, 19. “We just have to let the government know that never try to fool the people.”

One CNN iReporter said that after the protesters took over, hundreds gathered outside the building, with some making speeches and singing songs.

In a video, a young woman sings Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They are a-Changin’,” which many associate with the protest spirit of the 1960s.

“She played the Dylan song because she thinks the lyrics match the ongoing events happening in Taiwan,” said iReporter George Chang, 24, who shot the video. “Bob Dylan isn’t really that popular in Taiwan, especially not to the 8th grade generation, what Taiwanese call children born after 1991, but to the older generations I think he isn’t a stranger to them.”

The trade pact was signed last year in Shanghai to ease investment and trade between the two longtime adversaries, mainland China and Taiwan.

But opponents have voiced concerns that not only will Taiwan’s economy be hurt as businesses and investments flow to China, but the island’s democratic system could be undermined by closer ties with the mainland.

“The trade agreement was not supervised by the people of Taiwan, and benefits only big companies and harnesses our jobs,” Chang wrote. “But I do agree we need to open Taiwan to the world, even China too. But NOT this way, not by signing an agreement that is not fair to us and was negotiated by people who have no profession in these territories. We must rewrite the agreement and make it work for the both of us, towards a peaceful future between the strait of Taiwan.”

An iReporter identified as kwarrior, an Asian-American living in Taiwan, wrote that the government’s handling of the trade agreement “was unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the people’s rights. … I care deeply because my parents are Taiwanese and they always loved their nation like no other. I am personally affected because I value the rights of the people to voice and make changes in a democratic country.”

In a statement, Amnesty International urged security forces to show restraint.

“The situation is clearly tense. … While police have a duty to maintain order and to protect the safety of the public, the response must only be proportionate to the threat. 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, the group’s East Asia research director.

Last month, Taiwan and China held their highest-level talks in more than six decades, marking the first government-to-government contact since the pair’s acrimonious split in 1949.

Wang Yu-chi of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which oversees the island’s China policy, met with his mainland counterpart, Zhang Zhijun of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

After the meeting, China’s state news agency Xinhua said the two sides had agreed to open a regular communication channel.

“We should both be resolute to not let cross-strait relations suffer any more twists and turns and never let (the relationship) go backward,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

Previous contact between the two sides has been conducted through semi-official foundations or through political parties, not by government ministers acting in their official capacities.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has never ruled out the use of force to achieve reunification.

Taiwan also calls itself the Republic of China.

Relations between the two sides have improved since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008. On Wednesday, Ma called for the passage of the trade pact.

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