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Taiwan youth mark anniversary of occupy parliament movement

March 18, 2015

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Youth groups in Taiwan are marking the anniversary of a movement that occupied the island’s parliament and scuttled the ratification of a trade pact with China, Taiwan’s biggest trading partner and erstwhile political foe.

A rally outside parliament Wednesday evening followed by events planned over the weekend will draw new attention to what has become known as the Sunflower Movement, which handed Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou his toughest crisis since taking office in 2008.

Stung by the occupy movement and tens of thousands of sympathy protesters, Ma’s Nationalist Party lost nine local elections in November, prompting him to resign as party head.

Protests last year also dealt a blow to Taiwan’s relations with China, which have improved during Ma’s term but remain tense because of Beijing’s desire to have the island unify with the mainland. Beijing has claimed Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, but Taiwanese prize their democratic self-rule.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have changed little since last year’s protests, with no new deals reached between the two sides, chilling Taiwan’s economic expansion. Ma’s government has kept quiet on China since the local election losses as the party gears up for the January 2016 presidential election, which may be decided in part by voters who want more distance from China.

“The government people are cautious because there’s so much that could go wrong when it comes to China,” said Ross Feingold, senior adviser with U.S.-based consultancy firm D.C. International Advisory. “If an agreement is on the table, somebody is going to criticize it.”

The Nationalists’ chief opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party, advocates more restraint in negotiating with China, playing to the ideals of the Sunflower Movement protesters.

On March 18, 2014, several hundred people, apparently led by university students, entered the parliament’s normally guarded assembly hall in central Taipei to stop a proposed fast-track ratification of a Taiwan-China service trade liberalization pact. The pact was signed in 2013 and would open markets in 144 sectors, including finance.

Parliament has not ratified the trade deal, irking China as well as Ma’s government.

Thousands more young Taiwanese joined protesters outside the gates of parliament to question whether Taiwan should continue economic ties with China as long as the two sides are politically at odds. They named their movement after the sunflower, saying they were looking into the light of Taiwan’s problems.

A year later a civilian group called the Economic Democracy Union commemorated the protests with a concert Wednesday evening. Some at the festive event posed for photos or bought T-shirts saying “Taiwan is not part of China” and “Save democracy - don’t sell our country.”

“We want peace but must persist in saying that the two sides are not part of one country, so in every kind of exchange we should be more careful,” said participant Cheng Yu-chen, 21, a history major at Soochow University in Taipei.

Hundreds of police, backed by rings of barbed wire, guarded the gates to the legislative compound and government office towers on either side of the stage in case the crowd attempted to break in.

Economic Democracy Union member Chien Nien-you said the group wants more public oversight over deals between Taiwan and China and more flexibility in the constitution for introducing legislation, so that “everyday people’s ideas can get heard.”

Various anti-government groups are planning events in Taipei and other cities through April 10.

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