TAIPEI (AFP) — The streets of central Taipei came to a standstill on Thursday as tens of thousands of protesters chanted slogans and blew air horns to protest closer ties with China being promoted by their leaders.
The demonstrators were determined to express their outrage at the presence of Chen Yunlin, Beijing's top negotiator on Taiwan affairs, who was heading a large delegation of Chinese officials and business people visiting the island.
The protesters, mostly supporters of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), flooded into the plaza in front of the presidential office and were cordoned off from government buildings by riot police.
"Taiwan, China. One country on each side (of the strait)," the demonstrators shouted, waving flags and placards reading, "Chen Yunlin, get out."
The cacophony could be heard for kilometres (miles) around the plaza as they moved off, on foot and in vans equipped with loudspeakers, towards the hotel on the other side of the city where the Chinese delegation was staying.
Protesters have been angered by deals that both governments insist will bring enormous economic benefit to both sides, fearful that money and jobs will flood out of Taiwan to take advantage of the labour and resources of China.
Demonstrators said they were also angry that a meeting between Taiwan's democratically-elected President Ma Ying-jeou and Chen had been moved forward by several hours, a move they suspected was to avoid any discomfort for the Chinese official with a show of widespread public anti-China sentiment.
Ma had been embarrassed by demonstrations late Wednesday that saw Chen trapped inside a building for several hours before police could secure him safe passage back to his hotel.
He told a press conference ahead of his meeting with Chen the episode had damaged Taiwan's image internationally and could hurt tourism.
Some demonstrators scuffled with police Thursday in their attempts to get past barbed wire barricades and at least two men were arrested for allegedly attacking police.
Others threw eggs at the barricades and bottled water at riot police.
Organisers put the number of demonstrators at 100,000. Taipei's police had no immediate crowd estimate but said more than 3,000 officers were deployed.
Local media said at least a dozen police, protesters and reporters were injured during the scuffles, but police could not confirm the reports.
DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen told the crowd the demonstrations would continue.
"We are doing this for the future of Taiwanese people," she said. "We want to defend Taiwan's sovereignty and human rights."
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