TAIPEI • Protesters who stormed Taiwan's education ministry after a former student committed suicide have vowed to escalate their actions as the government struggled to defuse the crisis sparked by "China-centric" changes to the school curriculum.
The death of young activist Lin Kuan-hua has become a politically charged tragedy, with opposition parties rounding on the ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) to demand the resignation of the education minister and the retraction of new teaching guidelines.
It comes as public concern grows over increased Chinese influence on the island in the wake of a rapprochement with Beijing forged by current president Ma Ying-jeou.
Hundreds gathered overnight outside the compound in Taipei asking for the curriculum changes to be withdrawn and for Education Minister Wu Se-hwa to step down.
When their demands were not met, about 200 broke down fences in the early hours yesterday using bamboo poles and street barricades. By afternoon the angry student protesters remained, shouting down Dr Wu when he tried to address the crowd.
They demanded a straight "Yes" or "No" answer on whether he would retract the curriculum before drowning him out with chants of "Step down!" as he retreated into the building.
Crowds first congregated overnight to bid farewell to 20-year-old Lin, who police said killed himself in his New Taipei City home on Thursday morning.
The activist was one of 30 students, along with three journalists, who were arrested last week for breaking into the ministry in anger over the new high school curriculum, which students say favours China's view of the island's history.
After Dr Wu's attempted address, protesters called for further action.
"Since he would not accept our humble request (to retract the curriculum) we will not compromise, and fight on," said student leader Liao Chung-lin.
"Now we would like to invite your family and friends here to build up pressure," he added.
Taipei mayor Ke Wen-je urged protesters to stay calm.
"As long as you stay here peacefully, the police will not disperse you," he said.
Taiwan is a self-governed island which split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war but Beijing still sees it as part of its territory.
Closer ties under Mr Ma have led to growing discontent, particularly among young people. Students occupied Parliament for three weeks last year over a trade deal with China in a protest known as the Sunflower Movement, inspiring a new generation of activists.
Lin, who dropped out of vocational school in June reportedly to join the protest movement, was facing charges of breaching government premises and causing damage after last week's break-in.
The Chinese-language Liberty Times had interviewed Lin on Sunday after his arrest. He told how he was "very disappointed" when his parents expressed disapproval of his participation in the protests after a visit from his school principal.
The curriculum changes disputed by protesters include a reference to Taiwan being "recovered by China" instead of "given to China" after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.
The 50-year period of Japanese rule is also referred to as an era when "Japan occupied" the island, replacing the previous phrase "Japan governed".