Taipei: More than a thousand protesters from rival groups rallied in Taiwan`s capital on Wednesday night with gang leader turned politician "White Wolf" heading an anti-student demonstration.
At least 100 students have been camped out at the Education Ministry in Taipei for six days over controversial changes to the high school curriculum they say favour China`s view of the island`s history.
It comes as public concern is growing, especially among the young, at a perceived increase in Chinese influence over the island.
This comes in the wake of a rapprochement with Beijing forged by current President Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang (KMT) party.
Smaller protests have been taking place for months but escalated after the suicide last week of a student activist who opposed the curriculum, with hundreds storming the ministry compound Friday.
More than 1,000 supporters of the student movement turned out Wednesday night after infamous Taiwan triad leader Chang An-lo, known as "White Wolf", who is pro-China and has called for unification with the mainland, announced he would lead a rival demonstration.
Chang was imprisoned for 10 years in the United States for drug trafficking and then lived in exile for 17 years in China before returning to Taiwan in 2013.
He now leads a small pro-unification party.
Hundreds of pro-unification protesters wearing black vests gathered opposite the ministry, with barbed wire and lines of police, many with batons and riot shields, separating the two groups.
Chang addressed the crowd from a makeshift stage, lambasting textbooks introduced by former pro-Japan presidents.
The curriculum changes disputed by protesters include the 50-year period of Japanese rule being referred to as an era when "Japan occupied" the island, replacing the previous phrase "Japan governed".
"Young people nowadays have forgotten their roots and where their ancestors came from," Chang said through a loud speaker, against a backdrop of patriotic songs.
In an interview with reporters earlier, he claimed that previous textbooks had "poisonously educated our children".
Pro-independence supporters joined the students, waving flags and shouting "Chang An-lo, coward!"
Police said Chang`s group numbered around 400, with 1,100 on the student side.
Chang`s group dispersed after just over an hour following repeated police warnings that their protest was illegal.
But students camped out in the compound have vowed to stay despite a government promise to review the new curriculum.
"Our appeal remains unchanged, that`s retracting the curriculum, or at least temporarily halting it, and the minister must step down to shoulder responsibility," Yin Ruo-yu, a student leader, told reporters Wednesday.
Self-governing Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war. But Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory and does not rule out force to achieve reunification at some stage.
Students occupied parliament for three weeks last year over a trade deal with China in a protest known as the Sunflower Movement, inspiring a new generation of activists.
Chang also led a rival protest at that time, leading to clashes with student supporters.