At 5:45am yesterday, thousands of students protesting the cross-strait service trade agreement sat near the Executive Yuan complex on Zhongxiao E Road in Taipei “paying silent tribute to [the demise of our] democracy” and praying for the approximately 60 protesters injured when police forcibly ended their occupation of the Executive Yuan’s main building hours earlier.
The students said they “have no fear” of the possible repercussions their actions may have as they left the area to rejoin the protesters occupying the Legislative Yuan on the seventh day of the protest against the trade pact.
At 11pm on Sunday night, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) ordered the National Police Agency to evict the activists occupying the Executive Yuan before dawn. Jiang gave the order after speaking to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) by telephone.
After trying to pull, lift or drag protesters from the site, police employed two water cannon trucks, shields, batons and sticks to eventually remove all protesters from the Executive Yuan complex at 5:10am.
About 1,000 protesters remained outside on Zhongxiao E Road, while others gathered at the main entrance of the complex at the intersection of Zhongxiao E Road and Zhongshan S Road after 6am, prompting officers to turn the water cannons on them again. Not until after 7:15am were police able to reopen the roads to traffic.
The Executive Yuan said that at least 110 people were injured in the melee, including 52 police officers, while 61 people were arrested.
At about 5:15am, several SWAT team officers approached Dennis Wei (魏揚) — a National Tsing Hua University graduate student and convener of the Black Island National Youth Front that masterminded the legislative siege — and handcuffed him because police believe he had instigated the storming of the Executive Yuan compound.
Wei had earlier said that confrontations with police at the Executive Yuan were to be expected, but “we [the protesters] are not deterred by that.”
“If we fear being forced out, we won’t be able to defend our democracy. We want to show the Ma administration the people’s determination,” he said.
The movement was sparked by the Ma administration’s perceived attempt to ram the pact through the legislature and follows months of calls by several sectors of society and public officials to renegotiate the deal or scrap it altogether.
Critics say the trade deal was negotiated illicitly without consulting the public, is skewed in China’s favor and puts Taiwan’s national security at risk, reasons cited by the protesters in their demands that the government suspend the pact and implement legislation to monitor future cross-strait dealmaking.
Less than an hour after hundreds of students forced their way into the Executive Yuan complex by throwing quilts over the razor wire around it, more than 2,000 activists gathered at the site, outnumbering the approximately 200-strong police force.
While more police were called in, the students set up audio equipment, moved in supplies from the legislature, hung up a giant banner, burst into some offices on the second floor of the main building and gathered at three main entrances and two other areas in the complex.
An hours-long standoff with police in all five places ensued, during which the students sat down arm-in-arm and shouted slogans as officers cleared people from Beiping E Road and assembled more riot police and SWAT officers there with two water-cannon trucks. The police force eventually numbered more than 3,000.