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Taiwanese hold mass rally against China trade pact

Taiwanese protesters have staged a mass rally in protest at a trade pact with China. Critics of the deal say it will harm the economy and make Taiwan vulnerable to Chinese political pressure.

Tens of thousands of Taiwanese demonstrators gathered around the parliament building in Taipei on Sunday in a bid to pressure President Ma Ying-Jeou to retract a trade pact with China that critics say could increase the Communist mainland's political influence on the island.

A police estimate put the number of protesters at around 116,000. Many of the demonstrators carried a sunflower, the symbol of the protest movement.

Police security was tight following violent clashes on March 23 during which more than 100 people were

injured while storming cabinet offices.

Sunday's demonstration however remained peaceful.

Around

200 student-led protesters have also occupied the main chamber of parliament

for nearly two weeks in protest at the pact, which they say will damage Taiwan's economy in addition to endangering its democracy.

Improving China-Taiwan ties

President Ma, who has pursued

policies of rapprochement with China

since taking power in 2008, signed the service trade agreement with Beijing in June last year. The deal would allow Taiwanese and Chinese service sector companies to open up branches or shops in the other's territory.

On Saturday, Ma agreed to students' demands to subject future pacts signed with China to greater scrutiny, but refused to withdraw the deal, saying that would "cause too much damage to Taiwan."

The pact has yet to be formally ratified by Taiwan's legislature.

China and Taiwan split 65 years ago after a civil war. China still sees the island as a renegade province that is awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

tj/msh (AFP, AP)

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