TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Baton-wielding riot police cleared Taiwan’s Cabinet offices of scores of angry protesters opposed to a trade pact with China on Monday, in a sharp escalation of roiling tensions against the island’s rapidly developing ties with the communist mainland.
Authorities said they arrested 58 protesters while dozens were injured. Police action came five days after mainly student demonstrators occupied the nearby legislature following the decision of a ruling party politician to renege on a promise to submit the pact to legislative review.
While political protests in Taiwan are common, violent confrontations between demonstrators and police are relatively rare, reflecting the high level of civil discourse that has taken hold of Taiwanese society since the island completed an impressive transition from one-party dictatorship to robust democracy in the mid-1990s.
The occupation of the Cabinet offices marked a sharp escalation in tactics by a mostly student-led protest movement that now appears to be showing signs of a split between anti-government militants and a main group seeking dialogue with President Ma Ying-jeou on the China trade pact.
The occupation of the legislature has been mostly peaceful, attracting tens of thousands of supporters to the area surrounding the legislative building.
Early Sunday, Ma rejected protester demands to shelve the trade pact, which would open dozens of service sector industries in each side’s territory to companies from the other. It was signed in June by representatives from Taipei and Beijing, but is still waiting ratification by the Taiwan legislature.
Ma said that rejecting the pact now would undermine Taiwan’s credibility and harm its economy, which since he entered office nearly six years ago has become increasingly tied to Chinese markets.
Student leaders insist tying Taiwan too closely to China will harm Taiwan’s hard-won democratic freedoms and pave the way for China’s eventual takeover of the island. That has been the central goal of Beijing’s Taiwan policy since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.