TAIPEI: Taiwanese protesters ended their occupation of parliament on Thursday, three weeks after taking over the main chamber to protest against a contentious trade pact with China.
“We came here with ideals, now we leave with more burden,” student leader Lin Fei-fan said at a press briefing shortly before dozens of demonstrators clad in black T-shirts walked out of the building.
The demonstrators began dis–mantling the huge stacks of armchairs they used to barricade themselves in when they seized the chamber on March 18, in the first such occupation of Taiwan’s parlia–ment in the island’s history.
By midday the dozens of remaining protesters—whose numbers have dwindled from the 200 who initially stormed the building—had packed up their sleeping bags, taken down the posters they had plastered all over the chamber, and even repainted the walls.
“We’re doing the final clean-up of parliament. Everything should be done by 4 p.m.,” Shih Yen-ting, a spokesman for the protesters dubbing themselves the “Sunflower” move–ment, told Agence France-Presse.
“We’re putting the final touches on our exit,” he added.
Outside parliament, the protes–ters—who oppose a trade pact that they say will damage their economy and leave Taiwan vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing—were seen taking down their tents and posters, and hosing down the roads.
The activists will hold a simple ceremony half-an-hour before their departure to mark an end to the sit-in, Shih said.
“We’ll make it clear to our sup–porters that this is not the end, but the beginning of the next stage of our work,” the 25-year-old added.
The sit-in comes to an end after parliament’s speaker Wang Jin-pyng pledged not to preside over further debate on the trade pact until a law has been introduced to monitor such agreements with China—a key demand of the protesters.
But they have vowed to push on with their campaign to force the ruling Kuomintang party to retract the trade deal, a demand which President Ma Ying-jeou has flatly rejected.
The protest drew large crowds of supporters, with more than 10,000 gathered outside at one point.
There were violent clashes on March 23 when baton-wielding police turned water cannon on other protesters who had stormed the nearby government headquarters.
On Thursday, Shih described the atmosphere in the chamber as “relaxed” compared to the angry storming of the parliament three weeks ago.
The pact is designed to further open up trade in services between China and Taiwan, which split 65 years ago after a civil war.
Ma, who has pursued closer ties with China since coming to power in 2008, has said failure to ratify the deal would be a grave setback to Taiwan’s efforts to boost trade.