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Thousands in Taipei protest trade bill

Pact didn’t get item-by-item review as vowed

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A massive protest forms over a trade pact in front of the Presidential Building in Taipei. The most widely held complaint on Sunday seemed to be that the measure with China has not been examined in sufficient detail as many had expected.

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TAIPEI — Large crowds of demonstrators took to the streets of Taipei on Sunday to protest efforts by the government to approve a trade pact with Beijing and show support for the students who have occupied Taiwan’s legislature for nearly two weeks.

Organizers estimated that at least 350,000 people were gathered, as of 2 p.m., on the streets around the Presidential Office Building to express discontent over a pact that would open up dozens of service fields to cross-strait investment.

Police counted 116,000 demonstrators by 4 p.m., according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, while some television news stations put the number as high as 700,000.

After President Ma Ying-jeou’s ruling party, the Kuomintang, pushed the pact onto the floor of the legislature without an item-by-item review, as previously promised, hundreds of protesters, mostly college students, stormed the legislative chamber on March 18.

They have remained, with crowds of supporters filling the streets outside.

The trade pact has spurred concerns that it would harm local businesses and increase Beijing’s influence over Taiwan, a self-ruled island it claims as part of its territory.

While many demonstrators are opposed to the service trade pact, the most widely held complaint was that the measure has not been sufficiently examined.

A poll before the occupation of the legislature indicated that more than 70 percent of respondents supported a line-by-line review of the pact.

“The level of public trust with President Ma and his government is really low throughout the country, and the review of this pact has been very cursory,” said Wu Hsiang-min, a 30-year-old engineer who joined the black-clad protesters Sunday in central Taipei.

“So I felt that if the students were willing to stand up on this matter, then I should stand up, too.”

On Saturday, Mr. Ma attempted to respond to some of the students’ demands, saying he would back an itemized review of the trade pact and a law that would allow the legislature to more closely monitor agreements with Beijing.

Mr. Ma said he was opposed to demands that the pact, which was signed by quasi-governmental organizations representing Taiwan and China last year but still needs legislative approval, should be withdrawn.

The president has said that the deal is necessary for Taiwan’s economy to maintain its competitiveness with regional rivals such as South Korea.

And he has said that failure to approve it could harm Taiwan’s ability to enter into other trade agreements.

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