Taiwan opposition lashes out at police crackdown on protest

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's main opposition on Wednesday denounced as "unforgivable" the police use of force to dislodge demonstrators who stormed the government headquarters in protest at a contentious trade agreement with China.

More than 100 people were injured early Monday as riot police used batons and water cannon against students who had formed a sitting human chain at the offices near parliament, which has been occupied by protestors for more than a week.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the police and government officials should be held responsible for the worst violence the island has seen in years.

"Police using batons to beat unarmed students is unforgivable. Whatever their rank, all of them should be held liable for (the injuries)," DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien said.

DPP legislator Tuan Yi-kang demanded Premier Jiang Yi-huah apologise and that the police come up with a list of officers to be punished over the incident within three days.

Mr Jiang has defended the use of force, saying the government "cannot sit back and disregard actions that jeopardised national authorities and social order".

Some 200 demonstrators - mostly young students - occupied the main chamber of parliament late Tuesday last week in protest after the government reneged on a promise to review the China trade pact clause by clause in parliament.

The pact, signed in July, is designed to open up further trade in services between China and Taiwan, which split 65 years ago after a civil war.

But the protesters say the deal will damage Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from China.

Their occupation of parliament swiftly drew a large crowd of supporters, with more than 10,000 protestors congregated outside the building at one point.

But with the stand-off continuing, a group of radical protesters on Sunday stormed the nearby government headquarters. They were dispersed by water cannon and riot police, who also arrested dozens of protesters.

President Ma Ying-jeou and student protest leaders said Tuesday they would like to talk, but they failed to reach agreement on how the dialogue should be held.

Mr Ma has warned that failure to ratify the pact would be a grave setback to trade-reliant Taiwan's efforts to seek more free trade agreements and avoid isolation as regional economic blocs emerge.

The deal is a follow-up agreement to a sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between China and Taiwan.

Ma has overseen a marked thaw in relations with Beijing since he came to power in 2008, pledging to strengthen trade and tourism links.

But China still considers Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.