Students storm legislature in 'unprecedented' protest

University students who stormed into Taiwan's legislative building last Tuesday evening said they were prepared for a prolonged battle against attempts by the ruling Kuomintang party to ram through a trade agreement with China.

They brought sleeping bags and other equipment to hunker down in the assembly hall, calling for a detailed review of the pact.

Student leader Chen Wei-ting said they were preparing to stay until Friday, when the legislature was due to hold its next plenary, in order to prevent the ruling party's attempts to have the trade pact approved.

Students said they had "taken back the legislature on behalf of the people". Banners unfurled on the podium read: "Refuse to allow the trade pact to clear the legislature."

The agreement

Signed in June 2013 in Shanghai, the agreement would open up trade in services between China and Taiwan. Students and opposition parties believe it will harm Taiwanese businesses and increase unemployment.

A civil society organisation called the Democratic Front Against Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement, rallied outside the building on 18 March to protest against moves by Kuomintang, or KMT, legislators to unilaterally declare an end to the review process by legislative committees.

Last Monday the KMT said in an executive order that the review process was over.

The Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, accused the KMT of "trampling on democratic principles". The opposition party and students want the pact returned to the committee stage. But KMT representatives said the opposition wanted to scupper the pact, rather than review it.

The ruling party said in a statement on Wednesday that the DPP's response to the pact was "confused and wrong", and accused DPP legislators of assisting students in confronting the police, which was "equivalent to encouraging wrongdoing".

The protest

Taiwan's media put the number of students inside the building at more than 100. There were some scuffles with police guarding the building, but the students managed to break through.

Thousands of other students and supporters surrounded the complex in scenes described as unprecedented in the history of Taiwan's Legislature.

Police attempted to evict the students, but according to student sources they were outnumbered and pushed back by students throwing 'soft missiles', a possible reference to rolled up sleeping bags and pillows.

Taiwan's media reported that the students used chairs and other objects to block all eight entrances to the chamber and were able to resist attempts by police to dislodge them again on Wednesday.

Politicians including Su Tseng-chang, chair of the DPP, and other opposition legislators said they supported the students - which served as a deterrent to the police.