Activists take part in a protest against the Taiwanese government's administration in Taipei May 19, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
Tens of thousands of Taiwanese rallied in Taipei on Saturday to voice their anger at President Ma Ying-jeou over a spate of controversial policies, on the eve of his inauguration for a second term.
Protesters held placards proclaiming "President Ma, you suck!" and put stickers printed with the word "anger" on their faces in a demonstration organised by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
"We demand Ma apologise to the people and Premier Sean Chen step down for the wrong policies," said DPP spokesman Lin Yu-chang.
Ma has come under fire over a recent string of policies including the "double hikes" of fuel and electricity prices, amid a slowing economy and rising inflation.
His government's plan to allow imports of US beef treated with the growth drug ractopamine also backfired, triggering several protests by local farmers.
"Ma is doing a terrible job. He claims to listen to the people but he never does. I really hope he'll step down," said Keary Huang, an office worker from Taipei.
Police estimated a turnout of nearly 40,000 while the DPP claimed about 100,000 people joined the rally.
Apparently feeling the growing public anger, Ma called an impromptu press conference on Saturday to pledge to "look after the welfare of the majority of the people".
"I feel sorry and uneasy that recent policies have caused the public inconvenience and insecurity. I respect the people's views," he said.
Ma's approval rating stood at around 40 percent ahead of the January presidential elections, when he won a comfortable victory for a second and final four-year term.
However, recent controversies sent his popularity plunging to 19.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly three years according to a poll of 1,086 people released by Wealth Magazine last week.
In the survey, 62 percent said they had no faith that Ma would perform better during his second term.
Ma is due to be inaugurated on Sunday morning in a ceremony witnessed by hundreds of foreign and local dignitaries, when another opposition party will stage a protest near the presidential office.
Ma was elected in 2008 on a China-friendly platform and his government hailed fast-improving ties with Beijing during his first term, with a major trade pact signed by the two sides in 2010.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war. However, Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory awaiting unification, by force if necessary.
Liao Kuo-chih, a travel agent from northeast Taiwan, voiced concerns about Ma's China policies as he prepared to march towards the DPP headquarters in downtown Taipei for a night rally.
"Taiwan's door is wide open and Taiwan's money is pouring into China which hurts our economy. I don't know how Taiwan can defend itself without money and advanced weapons."