Dozens of young men dressed in black came out yesterday in support of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), closely following him as he made his way to a university in Yunlin County.
Local politicians and some of the protesters at the scene said the young men, most of whom looked like high school or college students, were connected to local gangs, although the reports could not be confirmed.
About 50 of them, smoking and forming a line beside the main entrance to National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, seemed to take orders from plainclothes officers, raising questions about their involvement in Chen’s controversial visit to the south, an opposition stronghold.
They were told by one senior plainclothes officer to “take a stroll,” when members of the press approached and attempted to take photographs. The young men immediately complied.
The officer, identified by his National Police Agency lanyard, refused to answer questions about the young men and denied that they were following his orders.
Police later said that based on their understanding, the young men were students and were not members of any gang.
County councilors at the scene, speaking privately given the sensitivity of the matter, said the group was most likely mobilized by local figures connected to pro-unification factions and were there in support of the Chinese envoy.
Tensions increased when Yunlin County Councilor Tsai Chiu-min (蔡秋敏) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), leading a few other protesters, confronted the group, asking them why they were there. Police stepped in to intervene.
When Tsai was asked who she thought the group of young men were, she said they had been “bought” and “brainwashed” by China.
“This is what happens when our education curriculum does not clearly define what [Taiwanese] sovereignty is,” she said.
Asked what they were doing at the scene, one of the young men, who appeared to be the leader, said they were there to ensure that Chen’s meeting went smoothly.
However, he avoided questions about which organization he belonged to.
Another said they wanted to “protect the director,” referring to the head of the local farming association who was meeting Chen.
Holding lilies in his hand, he said he was “concerned” protesters would bring jasmine, referring to the democratic protests that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East.
Representatives of the farming association could not be reached for comment.
Despite their presence, police still assigned the vast majority of uniformed officers to prevent the 60 protesters chanting slogans and holding placards across the street from blocking the university entrance.
The group did not return after police asked them to leave.
When Chen visited Taipei and Taichung in 2008 and 2009, hundreds of black-shirted supporters calling themselves unification advocates were seen in some of the places he visited.
Chang An-le (張安樂), a fugitive known as the “White Wolf,” a former leader of the Bamboo Union gang, at the time claimed responsibility for sending the group, saying they were there to assist police in carrying out their duties.