Taiwan protesters rally to mark anniversary of student movement that occupied Parliament

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan protesters on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the student-led "Sunflower Movement", which saw the occupation of Parliament for more than three weeks over a trade pact with China.

Hundreds marched around the perimeter of the Parliament building in Taipei urging the government to give voters a greater say on controversial issues. A bigger rally is planned outside Parliament on Wednesday evening and demonstrators also plan weekend protests.

Prominent "Sunflower Movement" leaders, wearing T-shirts reading "The people are the masters", were among around 300 protesters on Wednesday. "The Ma government not only wants to push for service and cargo trade pacts, but also political talks and a peace accord," said Mr Chen Wei-ting, a leading student activist. "Cross-strait talks did not stop in the past year but they were slowed."

The service sector trade pact that sparked last year's occupation of Parliament is on hold pending an oversight Bill - a key demand of protesters to guard against secret deals. Activists had complained the controversial pact was agreed in secret and would leave the island vulnerable to Chinese influence.

It was among a string of agreements signed with China since President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008.

Fears of increased Chinese influence are growing following a thaw in relations under current Mr Ma.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing still considers the self-ruled island part of its territory awaiting reunification. It has not ruled out using force should Taipei declare independence.

While the thaw in ties has seen a boost to trade and tourism, concerns over Chinese influence have led to a public backlash.

Mr Ma's ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party suffered a heavy defeat in local polls in November, seen as a barometer for presidential elections in January 2016.

Activists are now focusing on changing the island's referendum law so that major controversial issues can more easily be put to a public vote.

Organisers say around 1,000 protesters are expected to rally Wednesday evening.

"We want to tell the government that the people are the masters of Taiwan," said Mr Chen Pei-yi, who also took part in last year's protests.

"The people should make the final decisions on major issues."