Taiwan indicts eight for trying to block Chinese official's motorcade

A pro-democracy activist holds up Taiwan's national flag in front of police officers while Zhang Zhijun (unseen), director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, visits the labour activity centre in New Taipei City on June 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A pro-democracy activist holds up Taiwan's national flag in front of police officers while Zhang Zhijun (unseen), director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, visits the labour activity centre in New Taipei City on June 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwanese prosecutors on Thursday indicted eight protesters for attempting to block the motorcade of a senior Chinese official during a landmark visit to the island in June, which sparked furious protests.

In June, Zhang Zhijun became the most senior Chinese official ever to visit the island in a further sign of warming ties between the once bitter rivals, despite vocal opposition from some Taiwanese suspicious of closer ties with Beijing.

But Zhang cancelled several planned engagements before wrapping up his protest-hit visit as demonstrators clashed with the police and his supporters in several cities.

Six men and two women were charged Thursday with endangering public safety for wrapping themselves with iron chains and ropes while occupying a road in New Taipei city in an attempt to block the car of Zhang, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

They were arrested and taken away by police for questioning before Zhang's car passed through.

The indictments come after protests against another visiting Chinese envoy as anti-Beijing sentiments grow in Taiwan.

Chen Deming, president of China's quasi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday to inspect agricultural and other business sectors, as demonstrators demanded that he "crawl back to China".

Chen said Thursday while visiting eastern Taiwan that both Taipei and Beijing should work harder to promote trade but added: "the ball is in your court", the Central News Agency reported.

Zhang and his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Yu-chi met in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing in February in the first government-to-government talks since Taiwan and the mainland split 65 years ago after a civil war.

However, many Taiwanese remain wary of Beijing's increasing influence over the island. A planned pact to free up the services trade with China sparked an occupation of Taiwan's parliament and mass street protests earlier this year.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan as a part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.

Relations with China have warmed since Ma Ying-jeou was elected Taiwan's president in 2008 on a platform of boosting trade and tourism with the mainland.

But public sentiment has turned against the Beijing-friendly approach, as voters say trade deals have been agreed in secret and not benefited ordinary Taiwanese, which in part led to Ma's party suffering a landslide defeat in local elections.