Protesters try to storm Parliament in Taiwan as Ma Ying-jeou leaves for Singapore to meet Xi

Members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union protesting the upcoming meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping outide the Taipei Songshan Airport on Nov 7, 2015.
Members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union protesting the upcoming meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping outide the Taipei Songshan Airport on Nov 7, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - Angry protesters tried to storm Parliament in Taiwan overnight and 27 were arrested at the airport on Saturday (Oct 7) as the island's President Ma Ying-jeou left for a historic summit in Singapore with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

There were also reports that three members of the anti-China Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) were escorted by the police from a hotel in Singapore - it is not clear whether they are under arrest.

Demonstrators say they will gather outside the presidential office in Taiwan Saturday afternoon as the summit gets under way.

The meeting will be the first between leaders of the two sides since their 1949 split following a civil war won by the Chinese Communists.

Mr Xi and Mr Ma will shake hands at a luxury hotel in Singapore around 3pm, before holding talks behind closed doors for an hour.

It is a deeply symbolic seal on a dramatic seven-year rapprochement under Mr Ma following decades of hostility, but has provoked a backlash in Taiwan.

Closer ties with China have sparked fears over Beijing's growing influence with Mr Ma's opponents accusing him of selling out Taiwan by attending the summit.

Although it is a self-ruling island with a fierce sense of its own identity, Taiwan has never formally declared independence from Beijing, which sees it as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Overnight around 100 protesters tried to storm the heavily guarded Parliament building in Taipei carrying "Taiwan independence" banners, but were stopped by the police. There were no arrests.

A dozen were still staging a sit-in outside Parliament early on Saturday morning.

Protesters also gathered at Taipei's Songshan airport, where Mr Ma gave a brief address to reporters before boarding his flight on Saturday morning.

The demonstrators burned images of the two leaders with slogans calling Mr Xi "Chinese dictator" and Mr Ma a "traitor".

They included student leader Chen Wei-ting, a key figure in last year's Sunflower Movement, which occupied Parliament for almost a month over a controversial trade pact with China.

Television footage showed Chen being dragged into a police van while officers with riot shields scuffled with protesters.

"As a president who doesn't represent public opinion, Ma doesn't have the right to meet with the leader across the strait," said one 35-year-old who gave his name as Chen.

A TSU spokesman in Taipei said legislative candidate Hsiao Ya-tan was "taken away by police" from a hostel in Singapore in the early morning, along with two of her assistants.

"They are being questioned... that's the only information we have," said spokesman Liu Ching-wen.

Police said some protesters were arrested, but could not immediately give numbers.

A small group of Ma supporters were also at the airport.

"The purpose of the meeting is to recount the past, look forward to the future and, through the meeting, reinforce peace across the strait and maintain (the) status quo," Mr Ma told reporters before he left.

He added the summit would be a "new platform" for any future president of Taiwan to continue to develop cross-strait relations.

Critics have accused Mr Ma of arranging the summit in secret as a bid to boost the ruling Kuomintang's chances at January elections, which it is tipped to lose.

Support for the KMT and for Mr Ma personally has plunged, partly due to a China-friendly policy.