Brawl in Taiwan's parliament over China trade pact

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's parliament descended into chaos on Wednesday as a punch-up broke out between lawmakers over a trade agreement with former rival China.

TV images of the fighting - broadcast live nationwide - showed one legislator being pushed to the ground while others grabbed each other by the collar.

Once notorious for its mass brawls, debates in the Taiwanese parliament have been relatively peaceful in recent years - with a few exceptions, including fights last year over a tax bill and a new nuclear plant.

Wednesday's violence stemmed from a deal between China and Taiwan signed in June, aimed at further opening trade in services between the pair, which split 65 years ago after a civil war.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has overseen a marked thaw in relations with China since his Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links with the Asian giant.

China has emerged as the island's leading trade partner, while dozens of agreements between the two have been signed on everything from transport to earthquake monitoring.

But members of Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the smaller but more radical Taiwan Solidarity Union, have pledged to stop the latest trade pact being ratified - claiming it will hurt small service companies and damage the Taiwanese economy.

The brawl broke out after opposition lawmakers stayed overnight at the parliament in a bid to stop the pact being ratified, a filibustering technique commonly used by Taiwanese politicians.

Under the trade pact, China will open 80 of its service sectors to Taiwanese companies, while Taiwan will in turn allow Chinese investment in 64 sectors.

The pact is one of the follow-up agreements to the sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between the two sides.

Taiwan has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification with the mainland.

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