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Tens of thousands protest Taiwan parliament bills to ‘defend democracy’

Tens of thousands of Taiwanese protesters rallied day and night outside parliament on Friday, as lawmakers inside traded insults, blows and theatrics over a series of bills to expand the legislature’s power.

The issue has dominated conversations on the self-ruled island for the past week, eclipsing news of Beijing launching military drills around Taiwan to “punish” President Lai Ching-te.

China — which claims Taiwan as part of its territory — said Lai’s inauguration speech was a “confession of independence” after he was sworn into office Monday.

As Chinese plans and warships encircled the island on Friday, tens of thousands stormed the streets around Taipei’s parliament urging people to “defend democracy” on a different front.

At issue are five bills currently making their way through parliament, proposed by Taiwan’s largest opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party — regarded as pro-Beijing — and the upstart Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). The laws’ proponents say they are needed to curb corruption.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) claims the laws are being pushed through without proper consultation.

Among the most controversial is a “contempt of parliament” offense, effectively criminalizing officials unwilling to cooperate with legislative investigations, which critics say could be motivated by subjective politics.

Software engineer Liao Wei-hsiang, 40, said he took the day off work because he was “concerned (the opposition parties) will sell out Taiwan to have some kind of trade with China for their own interests.”

Graduate student Amanda Tsai felt that the bills “would give too much power to the legislators.”

Democratic Taiwan has a raucous political environment.

While his presidency has been under the administration of the DPP since 2016, no single party currently holds a majority in parliament — the Legislative Yuan — which could spell trouble for Lai.

Friday morning kicked off with a brief fight between two legislators in the Yuan, which was plastered with posters.

“What is DPP afraid of?” said one sign, while another unfurled on the chamber’s floor said: “Oppose power expansion.”

In the evening, DPP legislators released a slew of blue and white balloons — the colors of the opposition coalition — that had the words “against evil laws” scrawled on them.

“The legislative reform is to return power to the people, to investigate and prevent corruption,” said KMT lawmaker Hung Mong-kai.

“The mainstream public opinion is that the executive and legislative powers can supervise and balance.”

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