Floods of demonstrators took to the streets in Taipei City yesterday, venting their anger at the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and its policies, which they said threaten Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Protesters young and old marched under banners reading “Oppose toxic products, defend sovereignty,” “Defend Taiwan,” “I am Taiwanese, not Chinese” and “Taiwan is not part of China,” demanding that Beijing apologize to Taiwan for selling milk and other products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which cohosted the demonstration with the Taiwan Solidarity Union and a number of pro-localization groups, also accused Ma’s government of failing to stand up to China in the wake of the melamine scare.
PHOTO: FANG PIN-CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES
“Ma is the devil, no doubt about it. It was not enough for him to denigrate himself as a mere regional head, he had to drag all of Taiwan down with him. He is nothing but the mastermind of a fraud ring,” said Chang Chung-wen (張瓊文), a drama teacher who spearheaded a skit ridiculing Ma’s government.
Donning a grim reaper mask and brandishing a flaming red pitchfork, a student from Chiayi City said he was playing the role of Ma, whom he called a demon for pushing Taiwan into hell by catering to China.
Tsai Chia-chun (蔡嘉俊), also from Chiayi, dressed as a poor doctor in a raggedy white coat said Ma was singlehandedly destroying the nation’s medical profession by allowing Chinese doctors to practice in Taiwan.
A Tainan County protester brought a homemade horse-shaped punching bag to the parade and welcomed anyone who believed Ma — whose name literally means “horse” in Chinese — was a traitor to vent their anger on the doll.
Liu A-fu (劉阿福), A 72-year-old man from Yunlin County who walked with the help of crutches, said: “Even if I had to crawl, I wouldn’t miss this parade because I must voice my disdain for Ma. I am too angry to just sit at home and do nothing about this incompetent government.”
Liu said that since Ma took office in May he has been worrying he would die penniless after losing most of his life savings as the stock market crashed over the last few months.
“Didn’t he promise that the economy would revive as soon as he became the president? The only wallets that have fattened since May are the ones belonging to the corrupt Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] and Chinese communist officials,” he said.
A British protester — who declined to give his name, saying he feared the KMT government might deport him for participating in the rally — agreed with Liu, calling Ma “a big woman who lied to become the president.”
Some people declined to talk to the press, saying that they were afraid of a repeat of the KMT’s reign of “white terror” in the 1950s and that going on the record could put their families in danger.
Huang Jui-da (黃睿達) of Banciao (板橋) said even his dog would be a better president than Ma.
“At least the dog knows to attack bad people instead of inviting them in the house for tea,” Huang said.
The weak economy was also on the minds of the protesters.
“Taiwan’s economy is facing harsh times and the government can not do anything,” said Liu Tse-jun, a pregnant mother who brought her three children to join in the protest.
Event organizers estimated that more than 600,000 people took part in the rally, while Taipei police said they would not provide an estimate.
Converging on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, the demonstrators spread to a nearby road, chanting “Ma Ying-jeou is incompetent,” “Ma Ying-jeou step down” and “[Premier] Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) step down.”
The protesters began their march at 3pm from five different assembly points — Mengjia Park in Wanhua District (萬華), the main entrance of National Taiwan University, the Wellcome Business Center on Zhongxiao E Road, the Zhongshan Soccer Stadium and the Chunghsing Bridge in Sanchung (三重), Taipei County — meeting up on Ketagalan.
DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), heading the crowd as it left National Taiwan University, led the protesters in chants of “No hollowing out sovereignty, no incompetent government, no ‘one China’ market, no tainted products,” and “Support the DPP, support Taiwan, go Taiwan.”
“I am glad to see today’s rally bringing more people than the Aug. 30 rally,” Reverend Kao Chun-ming (高俊明) said while addressing the crowd from a stage.
He was referring to a rally two months ago that was arranged to protest against Ma on his 100th day in office. Taiwan Society — the organizer of that event — estimated that 300,000 people attended.
“Seeing the more than 500,000 taking to the streets, I hope Ma will no longer downgrade Taiwan or downgrade Taiwan’s sovereignty,” former premier Yu Shyi-kun of the DPP said.
At nightfall, the event’s organizers projected a laser display of the Chinese characters for “incompetence” (無能) onto the Presidential Office building.
The rally reached a climax at 7:40pm when Tsai addressed the crowd.
“Ma broke his campaign promises to boost the country’s economics ... Ma owes us an apology,” she said.
“The protest today is a warning to the Ma government. We don’t like his policies. Not only is he incompetent in lifting the sagging economy, but he is also adopting a policy that will result in Taiwan losing its sovereignty to China,” she told the rally.
“Today’s rally is a beginning, and the DPP and the Taiwanese want to let [Chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait] Chen Yunlin [陳雲林] know that he is not welcome in Taiwan,” she said, referring to Chen’s planned visit on Nov. 3.
Tsai then led the crowd in a chant of “Ma Ying-jeou step down” and “Cabinet step down.”
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who quit the DPP earlier this year to show his remorse for causing damage to the party amid allegations of money laundering by him and his family, also took part in the rally despite reported threats against him and Tsai. Police on Friday arrested a man who allegedly threatened to harm them.
Along the march route from Ding Hao Plaza near the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station, Chen, leading one of the five groups in the rally, made no remarks as he had promised organizers that he would “play a low-key” role in the event.
Chen, dressed in a green T-shirt, chanted pro-Taiwan slogans and gave the thumbs-up sign to his supporters.
The DPP has been put in an awkward position in its relationship with Chen, with some suggesting the party distance itself from him to stress party integrity and reform, while some worry that doing so would draw ire from its core supporters, most of whom are Chen’s diehards.
“I am here to support A-bian [Chen’s nickname] because supporting A-bian is tantamount to safeguarding Taiwan. The DPP without A-bian would quickly fade away,” 60-year-old Lee Chung-min (李忠明) said.
Kao Tien-sheng (郭天盛), who came from Taichung City to join the rally with his son, said that Chen’s alleged corruption didn’t make him less loyal to the DPP.
“A-bian didn’t represent the whole DPP,” he said. “That A-bian [allegedly] deposited large sums of money in overseas bank accounts really hurt my feelings, but I still support the DPP. I am sympathetic with its stance on cross-strait issues, unlike that of the KMT, which is willing to sacrifice Taiwan’s sovereignty.”
Lin Mei-hue (林美蕙), 33, said she was initially a bit hesitant about joining the brigade led by Chen because of his alleged corruption, but came to the conclusion that Chen had the right to join the rally and that any wrongdoings would be determined by the judicial system.
After waving to the crowd shortly from a truck a few hundred meters away from Ketagalan Boulevard, Chen left at 4pm without joining the night rally, which continued until 10pm.
It took a few hundred security officers protecting Chen about 30 minutes to push through the crowd so that he could get into his vehicle as his backers strove to shake hands with him, chanting “A-bian, Jia you [加油]!”
The National Police Agency said that a total of 5,406 officers were on duty for the demonstration.
No major conflicts happened in the rally except a small fire that broke out near a generator at the site, injuring one man. Police said they were investigating the cause of the fire.
At a separate setting, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the government would review its policies and make every effort to push necessary reform.
Acknowledging that the demonstrators' appeals are the government's policy goals,“maybe we haven’t done enough, so some people are complaining. Compounding the problem is the global economic downturn,” he said.
On whether Ma would meet Tsai, Wang said Ma would be very happy to talk about anti-violence, anti-corruption and other economic issues with Tsai.
Wang said the office had invited her on several occasions in the past, but that Tsai had been unable to attend.
The office would, however, keep trying and “extend the most sincere invitation.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KO SHU-LING, JIMMY CHUANG AND AGENCIES
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