TAIPEI: Taiwan riot police unleashed water cannon on Monday to dislodge hundreds of demonstrators who had stormed government headquarters in violent scenes that dramatically escalated a days-old protest against a trade pact with China.
After nearly a week-long occupation of Taiwan’s parliament, the protesters late on Sunday also infiltrated the Executive Yuan where the Cabinet is located, pulling down barbed-wire barricades outside and using ladders to break into offices on the second floor.
The assault came after President Ma Ying-jeou refused to back down on the trade pact, which he argues is vital for Taiwan’s economic future, rejecting opposition claims that he is effectively handing the island over to Chinese control after six decades of political separation.
About 1,000 officers were deployed overnight to forcibly remove the protesters from the Executive Yuan. Premier Jiang Yi-huah, whose office is located in the building, said at least 110 people were injured, including 52 police officers, while police arrested 61 people.
“Suddenly water was spraying at us and it was very powerful. My glasses flew off and I was very dizzy,” protester Frank Hsieh, a former premier from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told reporters.
One injured male protester lay on the ground receiving medical care, while another was led away with blood streaming down his face, Agence France-Presse journalists saw.
After taking over the building, many protesters had lain on the ground with their arms linked to defy efforts to shift them.
Police used riot shields to push the crowds back while some of the demonstrators tried to grab their batons and pelted them with plastic bottles. Two water cannon trucks were then deployed early Monday, eventually subduing the crowd and clearing the building.
“The government denounces violence and dispersed the crowd according to the law. We will not tolerate actions designed to paralyze the government,” the presidential office said in a statement.
‘Let us calm down’
But the DPP, which historically has favored formal independence for Taiwan, called on Ma to respond to the protesters’ demands and scrap the pact.
“Forcible dispersals will only cause more students and police to get hurt and are likely to trigger more outrage and protests,” the party said in a statement.
Ma has overseen a marked thaw in relations with Beijing since he came to power in 2008 pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links.