Hundreds of thousands of “black-clad army” members took to the streets in Taipei yesterday, wearing black to symbolize what they call the government’s “black-box,” or opaque, handling of the cross-strait service trade pact as they called for the agreement to be retracted and Taiwan’s democracy to be safeguarded.
The demonstrators also wore yellow ribbons that read: “Oppose the service pact, save Taiwan” and chanted slogans such as “Protect our democracy, withdraw the trade deal” as they carried sunflowers, which became a symbol of opposition to the trade deal after the media dubbed the student-led protests the “Sunflower student movement.”
At 2pm yesterday, an hour after the demonstration’s scheduled start time, police estimated that 61,100 people had joined the rally, but “since the police’s number is always an underestimate, we are saying that there are now more than 350,000 people at the scene,” an announcer on the protest’s main stage said.
By 4pm, as the number of protesters continued to climb, there was no room left on Ketagalan Boulevard, Chungshan S Road and Qingdao E Road, and latecomers had to join the demonstrators spilling out onto Xinyi Road, Zhongxiao W Road and Liberty Square.
The crowd was such that the National Taiwan University Hospital MRT Station was forced to let trains pass without stopping.
At 5pm, the coalition of student and civic groups behind the demonstration said that approximately 500,000 people had come out to stand for their cause yesterday, while the National Police Agency put the number of demonstrators at 116,000 at the rally’s peak at about 4pm and 101,900 an hour later.
Police erected steel barricades to prevent protesters from reaching major government buildings, including the Presidential Office Building and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yesterday’s rally follows the ongoing student-led sit-in at the Legislative Yuan that began on March 18 and the occupation of the Executive Yuan complex in Taipei on March 23 by other protesters who were forcefully evicted by police the next day.
Before the mass rally began, student protesters issued a press release saying that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had “continued to deceive the people and fudge the facts” at a press conference on Saturday.
“With everyone hoping the president would respond positively to the protesters’ appeals, Ma again let us down. The president — despite having an extremely low approving rating — again chose to ignore poll results showing that more than 70 percent of respondents want the pact subjected to a clause-by-clause review ‘in substantial terms,’” the statement said.
The students said the remarks Ma made on Saturday were no different than what Premier Jiang Yi-hua (江宜樺) said a few days earlier, “which was to rewind the situation back to the day before the 30-second ramming through of the pact at the controversial legislative committee meeting on March 17.”
The students were referring to a March 17 committee review session convened by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) at which Chang announced that the trade deal had passed its review and would go to the legislative floor, drawing furious criticism from opposition lawmakers and helping spark the protests.
Without the institutionalization of a mechanism to oversee cross-strait negotiations and agreements, the 30-second travesty can be repeated, the students’ statement added.