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University presidents call for leniency for student protesters who broke laws

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's national university presidents called Monday for leniency for students who may have broken the law in protests against a trade-in-services agreement with China as their occupation of the nation's parliament appeared to be coming to an end.

Five permanent trustees of the Association of National Universities of Taiwan (ANUT), including presidents of National Taiwan University, Sun Yat-Sen University, Chiao Tung University, Chung Hsing University and Cheng Kung University, also urged the students to end their protest soon and to return to school.

After Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng promised Sunday to pass a law to tighten the monitoring of cross-Taiwan Strait agreements before acting on the controversial service trade pact, there were high hopes that the three-week-old student-led occupation could come to an end soon.

In a statement, the ANUT trustees urged the students to focus on their studies while following the progress of the new law.

They called on the Legislative Yuan to get back to normal business and to start working on important legislation to meet the the people's expectations.

The presidents also expressed hope that the administration will deal with the students' actions after the March 18 storming of the Legislature in a lenient way and strike a balance between safeguarding the constitutional right to the freedom of speech and the rule of law.

The ANUT is a social organization aimed at improving education quality, upgrading the standards of research and promoting international exchanges, according to its website.

The ANUT trustees' statement came as police summoned 41 people for questioning over an expansion of the protest late March 23, when hundreds of protesters broke into the Executive Yuan compound before being forcibly removed the next morning.

Fifty-six others have already been questioned in the case for their involvement in damage to public property.

Computers and other electronic devices, furniture and fixtures at both the Legislative Yuan and the nearby Executive Yuan buildings have been broken, causing millions of dollars' worth of damage.

There were no immediate response to the trustees' statement but Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay said Monday that the authorities should not turn a blind eye to law-breaking activities.

“Just because it involves students doesn't mean we should use a different set of standards,” she said. “It's legally impossible.”

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