MAY 17 2009 15:04h

Tens of Thousands Protest Against Taiwan President

Supporters of the opposition DPP carry placards against Taiwan President Ma during a mass protest in Taipei.




Demonstrators packed arterial streets in Taipei from early afternoon to march peacefully on the presidential office.

Tens of thousands of people opposed to Taiwan's improving ties with China demonstrated on Sunday against Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, the third such rally over the past year but unlikely to sway current policies.

Demonstrators packed arterial streets in Taipei from early afternoon to march peacefully on the presidential office.

Some wore shirts that accused Ma of "selling Taiwan" to China or portraying the president as a devil, while others waved Taiwan independence flags.

"Taiwan and China are different counties and can't be united," said Wang Chia-ping, 32, who travelled six hours from southern Taiwan for the event. "I think Ma has to respect our voices, since it's a multi-party democracy."

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.

Since Ma took office in May 2008, his government has signed trade and transit deals with economic powerhouse China to help Taiwan's sagging economy and make peace with Beijing.

"The protests will give the government a message that we're going too fast, doing too much with China, and we need to put a break on it," said Shane Lee, a political science professor at Chang Jung University in Taiwan.

But the peaceful demonstration, which was organised by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, will not hurt Ma, analysts say. Ma has said he would not change course, while the opposition lacks votes in parliament to oust him.

"We hope that when done protesting, everyone will peacefully leave the site," Ma told reporters on Sunday. "They can relax. All of our talks with mainland China are done on the premises of equality and respect. We haven't lost our sovereignty."

Protest organisers claimed a total of 600,000 people in Taipei and a smaller demonstration in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Officials and on-site witnesses estimated a total turnout of 50,000.

Some demonstrators also accused Ma of not being transparent about what Taiwan's ties with Beijing, opposition Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said.

Others say he has bungled the economy, which slipped into recession in February, joining other export-driven Asian markets.

"I'm out of work. We don't have any jobs. We're unemployed," said protester Chen Chung-hua, 55. "So what are we going to do?"

Similar mass demonstrations against Ma took place in August and October last year. A smaller, more violent one coincided with a meeting in November between Ma and China's top negotiator.

Some demonstrators planned to camp overnight outside the presidential offices, defying an order to clear the streets by 1400 GMT and the presence of about 4,000 police officers, opposition leaders said.