Ma grants conditional `yes' to sit-in

BICKERING: While the rally appears set for next week, Shih's camp has become divided on how the protest should be held, with some decrying commercialization

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 1

Overriding the Taipei City Police Department's decision, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday announced that he was giving his conditional approval for a round-the-clock sit-in protest against President Chen-Shui-bian (陳水扁).

"As the mayor of the capital, maintaining peace is my responsibility, and I have the authority to give orders to the police department," Ma said yesterday at a press conference held at Taipei City Hall.

The announcement came after the police department's previous rejection of the application for the protest, led by former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德), to be staged nonstop from Sept. 11 to Sept. 15, which will continue protests that begin on Saturday.

It also contradicted Ma's earlier position, in which he repeatedly said that granting permits for rallies falls under the police department's jurisdiction.

Citing the Local Government Act (地方制度法) to support his decision, Ma acknowledged that he raised the decision-making level as the protest was a "special case," which could impact on public order and required the coordination of different city departments.

"The demonstration is the most prepared one I've ever seen, so we have decided to give our conditional approval," Ma said, adding that the city government would still take measures if there were signs of any "clear and present danger" during the protest.

The police department had originally granted the protesters permission to stage a nonstop demonstration on Ketagalan Boulevard between Aug. 23 and Sept. 7.

But Shih's camp later changed the date of the protest and filed another application to request a round-the-clock sit in from Sept. 11 to Sept. 15.

The police department rejected the second application, saying that all protests must end by 10pm.

Overruling the police department's decision, Ma said he made the decision according to the regulations in the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法), adding that he would shoulder responsibility.

When asked whether the city government would approve all round-the-clock protests in the future, Ma said "it depends" on the situation and that the city government might not necessarily be the one to make the decision.

Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞), commissioner of the Taipei City Police Department, denied that the department had been under pressure from the National Police Agency and had thus sought the mayor's support.

"The agency did oppose the idea of allowing a nonstop protest because of public safety and police staffing concerns," he said, adding that the agency respected its final decision.

The city government may approve the rally on condition that the leaders of the protest sign an agreement not to disturb traffic, the public order and the people living in the neighborhood.

They will also have to file a new application before the end of today as it will take at least three days to process the application, Wang said.

After 10pm on the last day of the sit-in on Sept. 15, the protesters will be asked to leave, he said.

If the camp failed to keep any of its promises, the police department will revoke its application anytime and demand that the protesters end the demonstration, Wang said.

The issue with the protest deadline, however, appeared to be less of a concern for Shih's camp as its spokesmen yesterday continued to argue about how the demonstration should be held.

Following the first "trial" protest on Friday night, the camp's spokeswoman Ho De-fen (賀德芬) yesterday shared her concern about the "commercialization" of the protest.

Ho challenged another spokesman, Jerry Fan (范可欽), over his ideas for the rally, including wearing red clothes to show anger and playing classical music during the protest.

Fan yesterday defended his ideas and said they were the product of a collaborative effort by the camp's think tank, and not his alone.

Meanwhile, back in Chen's hometown in Tainan County, a nine-day sit-in launched by the Democratic Progressive Party's Tainan Chapter in support of Chen yesterday entered its second day with an increasing number of participants, a Central News Agency report said.

Secretary-General of the Presidential Office Mark Chen (陳唐山) yesterday paid a visit to the venue and expressed his gratitude to the crowd.

Mark Chen said that the president did not know that he was planning to visit Tainan County nor had he asked him to convey message to the crowd.

The event organizer said it plans on inviting the president's mother to take part in the sit-in today.

also see story:

Analysis: Sit-in a real test of Ma's capabilities