Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered on the fringes of Taiwan's carefully choreographed National Day celebrations Thursday, waving banners and chanting slogans denouncing the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou.
The large-scale protests against his increasingly unpopular government were the first to dog the normally staid National Day observance since Ma entered office in 2008.
Police kept the estimated 10,000 protesters well away from the downtown Taipei plaza where Ma delivered an address calling for Taiwan to improve its economic performance. He shared the podium and on occasion chatted comfortably with legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng, whom Ma has attempted to oust from both his job and from the ruling Nationalist Party over allegations that Wang pressured prosecutors not to appeal the acquittal on influence peddling charges of an opposition lawmaker.
But the attempts have backfired amid charges that Ma colluded with high-level judicial officials to press his case against longstanding rival Wang, and allegations have surfaced that the initial evidence against Wang was gathered by an illegal wiretap conducted by an elite prosecutorial unit.
At dawn Thursday, a handful of demonstrators scaled the legislative building to replace the Taiwan flag with a banner calling on Ma to step down from the presidency. Later, demonstrators were waving banners and chanting slogans denouncing Ma's support for the construction of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant and lambasting him for backing a financial agreement with China.
Many Taiwanese say the agreement opening service industries including banks and other financial institutions to the other's territory would fell hundreds of Taiwanese companies that couldn't compete with larger mainland institutions. But Ma says it would make the Taiwanese economy much more competitive and lead to a higher standard of living.
In his second four-year term, Ma has since seen his popularity plummet amid anemic economic growth, administrative bungles and criticism that his leadership style is remote. Recent polls have put his support at 10 to 20 percent, the lowest for a Taiwanese president.
Taiwan's National Day celebrations mark the anniversary of a 1911 uprising on the Chinese mainland that led to the collapse of the nation's longstanding imperial system. The Republic of China — Taiwan's official name — retreated to the island in 1949 when Mao Zedong's Communists took power in Beijing.
Beijing continues to claim that Taiwan is part of its territory and wants to establish its control over the island. It has threatened force if Taiwanese authorities move to make their de facto independence permanent or delay unification indefinitely.