Thousands protest Taiwan leader's inauguration

AP News
Posted: May 19, 2012 10:53 AM
Thousands protest Taiwan leader's inauguration

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday in downtown Taipei to protest government policies ahead of the inauguration of recently re-elected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Wearing red and green armbands emblazoned with the Chinese character for "anger," the demonstrators snaked their way through the streets of the capital before gathering in front of the ornate presidential office building under a light drizzle.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party said it expected about 100,000 people to attend. Police did not provide a figure on the turnout.

Participants said they were angry about Ma's economic policies, including his decision _ announced after his January re-election _ to raise utility prices.

Ma is to be inaugurated for his second four-year term Sunday.

Trading company employee Jerry Hsu said he voted for Ma in January because of his success in improving relations with China, but was now having second thoughts.

"Stabilizing relations with the mainland is not enough," Hsu said. "Ma failed to consider everyday realities when developing his economic policies."

Added recent college graduate Wang Wen-ling, now employed as a clerk in a small business, "Pay for college graduates is so low that we can hardly dream about further studies or marriage."

Analysis of voting patterns in January's election _ which Ma won by six points over his DPP rival _ suggest that relations with China were uppermost in many voters' minds.

Ma's first term was devoted largely to reducing tensions between the sides. They have ebbed and flowed since 1949, when Chinese Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek established a rival regime on Taiwan after being defeated by Mao Zedong's Communists in the Chinese civil war.

But since Ma's victory in January, popular anger has crystallized around his economic policies, particularly his decision to raise utility prices, which many Taiwanese saw as dishonest, largely because of its postelection timing. His public approval rating now stands at about 20 percent.

As Saturday's protest began, Ma told reporters that he was sorry so many people were unhappy about his policies, but attributed their negative reception to poor government communication, rather than any flaw in the policies themselves.

"The policies are good," he said. "It's just that we didn't explain them to the public enough."