Pro-Taiwan independence activists call for the referendum in front of the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party during a demonstration in Taipei on October 20, 2018. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh
Pro-Taiwan independence activists call for a referendum during a demonstration in Taipei on October 20, 2018. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh

While Taiwan’s ruling party attempted to distance itself from a boisterous pro-independence rally in the island’s capital on Saturday, tens of thousands took to the streets in a rebuke to both Beijing and the Taiwanese administration of President Tsai Ing-wen.

The Taipei event was the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan first became a democracy more than 20 years ago.

Organizers claimed a turnout of more than 100,000, far outdoing a parallel rally held by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the southern city of Kaohsiung, its heartland.

The DPP publicly prohibited its officials and candidates from attending the Taipei rally, instead holding its own protest against China’s “annexation” of Taiwan. But the rally did not call for an independence vote and in a statement ahead of the protest, the DPP emphasized that it did not want to “change the status quo of Taiwan’s independent sovereignty.”

Organizers said 10,000 people attended the Kaohsiung event.

Meanwhile in Taipei, demonstrators gathered outside DPP headquarters chanting slogans and waving flags reading “Independence Referendum.”

“Want Referendum!” and “Oppose Annexation!” the crowd shouted.

Organized by new group Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwan presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, the rally called for a public vote on whether the island should formally declare independence from China.

A vote on independence would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referenda on changing the constitution or sovereign territory. Formosa Alliance is urging the DPP government, which has a majority in parliament, to change the laws to allow such a vote.

However, analysts agree that Tsai would be unlikely to allow such an amendment, which would be a red flag to Beijing.

Chinese authorities have already said Formosa Alliance should not go down what they called a “dangerous path.”

Holding a separate rally was seen as a way for the DPP to distance itself from activists but to reflect the feelings of some of its more pro-independence members and supporters.

– with reporting by AFP

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