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Tens of thousands march to protest trade pact with China

Taichung, Taiwan, Dec. 20 (CNA) Tens of thousands of Taiwanese marched in the central Taiwan city of Taichung to protest the government's plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.
The rally took place one day before Chen Yunlin, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) , arrives here to sign four economic agreements with his Taiwan counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, the chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), but the ECFA is not on the meeting's formal agenda.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and local civic groups said the purpose of the protest was to call attention to the poor overall performance of President Ma Ying-jeou's administration and the lack of transparency in its negotiations on the ECFA with China.
Braving strong winds in temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius, pro-independence protesters from across the country assembled in downtown Taichung for the rally after marching in two separate legs in the city.
"Taiwan is facing three problems. The first problem is Ma, the second problem is Ma. The third problem is still Ma, " DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen told the crowd.
Polls show that the president is leading Taiwan to unification (with China), she said, adding that "the biggest problem is that we have a president who is only focused on unifying with China." Tsai said people gathered because no one knows what the president is doing, especially on the ECFA, which Ma argues Taiwan must sign or it will be marginalized.
The ECFA is expected to be included in the next round of talks between both sides, which is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2010 in China.
Tsai accused Ma of never explaining the ECFA clearly and of refusing to communicate with the people, the Legislative Yuan or the opposition on its contents.
The only beneficiaries from the ECFA are big corporations, while many ordinary people will lose their jobs because of it, Tsai contended, adding that the president has never disclosed its potential adverse impact on Taiwan's people.
An economic model run by the Ministry of Economic Affairs found that Taiwan would gain a net 260,000 jobs if an ECFA was signed, while the Council of Labor Affairs estimated it would create a net 105,000 to 125,000 jobs.
Both models acknowledged, however, that some workers in vulnerable industries could lose their jobs.
Almost all the DPP heavyweights showed up and spoke to the gathered crowd.
"If Taiwan signs the ECFA with China, President Ma should also ask China to help Taiwan sign FTAs with other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, so Taiwan will be able to trade with others as well, " said former Vice President Annette Lu.
In the days leading up to Sunday's protest rally, the DPP said it hoped to mobilize 100,000 people, and the party estimated after the event that the turnout had surpassed its goal. The Taichung City government, on the other hand, put the turnout at 31,000.
Fears that clashes would break out never materialized. Taichung City government spokesperson Tsou Mei-liang earlier said that no confrontations took place Sunday, and it was not a surprise since "the protest was legally applied for and all arrangements had been implemented beforehand." Prior to the main rally, the protesters marched for more than two hours in Taichung's streets, and made the most noise when they walked past the Windsor Hotel, where Chen will stay during his five-day stay, to express their displeasure over the Chinese negotiator's visit.
The crowds chanted slogans such as "Taiwan and China; one country on each side" as they marched, while others expressed their views in more colorful ways.
A senior citizen from Chiayi City showed everyone a picture of Ma wearing only a swimming suit and said "this is all he does -- swim." A protester surnamed Hsu, who came from the southern city of Tainan complained not only about the government's China policy but also security precautions taken for Chen's visit.
"We don't want a trade agreement with China. And all these barricades, security deployments and traffic controls for a Chinese representative are outrageous. The Taichung City police should remove them all." (By Chris Wang)




Updated : 2022-05-29 01:30 GMT+08:00