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Anti-nuclear protesters rally outside Presidential Office
Activists plan to occupy Chunghsiao West Road until Monday
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-04-26 02:49 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – An estimated 30,000 opponents of the fourth nuclear plant took part in a sit-in in front of the Presidential Office Building Saturday in support of hunger-striking former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung.

The long-time opponent of nuclear energy went into his fifth day of fasting at Taipei’s Gikong Presbyterian Church Saturday, demanding an immediate halt to construction of the fourth power plant now nearing completion in Gongliao, New Taipei City.

“End nuclear energy, give power back to the people” was the key slogan for Saturday’s mass event, one of several rallies to take place during the weekend. The predominant color on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Saturday was yellow, the color of the anti-nuclear movement. Yellow balloons and banners decorated the wide tree-lined road, while the protesters wore yellow ribbons, headbands and T-shirts. In the early evening, heavy rain poured down on the protesters, many of whom pulled on plastic yellow raincoats.

At the time, police estimated the size of the crowd at 5,000 while organizers mentioned at least 30,000. Police kept more than 1,800 officers on standby, while guards outside the president’s residence were reportedly equipped with weapons to fire rubber bullets.

Organizers said the sit-in would last indefinitely until the government met their demands. An anti-nuclear march was scheduled to rally tens of thousands of protesters on Sunday afternoon. Organizers said they planned to ask 30,000 people to lie down on Chunghsiao West Road near Taipei Railway Station to symbolize the victims of a nuclear disaster. The action might last until Monday morning, activists said.

Prominent leaders of the March 18-April 10 student occupation of the Legislative Yuan such as Lin Fei-fan also showed up at the sit-in, reports said.

Barbed-wire barriers had been erected in front of the Presidential Office and the nearby Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while activists had prepared tents against the occasional drizzle and first-aid stations for emergencies.

The wave of weekend protests started off Saturday at 7 a.m. with a reported 7,000 people taking part in a morning run from Ketagalan Boulevard through downtown Taipei and back. The event symbolized citizens trying to escape a nuclear disaster, reports said. The runners included athlete Chi Cheng, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang and former Premier Yu Shyi-kun.

After the run, an estimated 2,000 people formed the English words “No Nuke Now,” holding up yellow placards and shouting “2014, end Nuke Four!” The event also featured indigenous Taiwanese in ethnic dress protesting against the storage of nuclear waste on Orchid Island in Taitung County.

Artists and entertainers holding a daily evening sit-in on Liberty Square in Taipei said they would continue their action as long as Lin fasted.

The former DPP leader himself was seen walking around inside the church wearing his typical fisherman’s hat, a jacket and a shawl. He looked in good health under the circumstances. He stopped eating solid foods on Tuesday. Since then several top politicians, including the president, visited his church, though they mostly did not meet him and only left messages in a guestbook. Members of the public lined up outside the church Saturday to pay him their respects.

Ex-Premier Chang Chun-hsiung and former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen visited Lin on Saturday morning, signed the guest register without adding a message, and left. “It was time for the government to make a decision,” she said later. Supporters of her in Tainan said they were organizing a daily silent walk around the center of the city in opposition to the nuclear plant. Similar walks, sit-ins and fasts were reported from several parts of the country.

A group at the Gikong church said it would walk around the island in 84 days in support of Lin, while college students sang songs outside to encourage the veteran activists to continue his fast. In Kaohsiung, local politicians launched a petition which gathered more than 3,000 signatures in two days’ time, reports said.

Chen Ou-po, the DPP lawmaker who also fasted, was present for Saturday’s sit-in on Ketagalan Boulevard. On Friday, low blood sugar levels had forced him into hospital to give up his hunger strike, reports said.

During the morning, Ma was visiting a car plant in Chungli, Taoyuan County. Outside the factory, protesters called on him to scrap the nuclear project and to “save Lin Yi-hsiung.”

On Friday evening, DPP lawmakers already started a sit-in in support of Lin, while a group led by Taiwan Referendum Association leader Tsay Ting-kuei besieged the Legislative Yuan to try and keep lawmakers inside and force them to work on the DPP’s referendum proposal. During the siege, protesters tried to prevent Kuomintang legislator Alex Tsai from leaving in his car, leading to a police investigation into the incident. On Saturday afternoon, Tsay led about 200 supporters from the Legislature to Ketagalan Boulevard for the sit-in.

The existing Referendum Act includes the requirement that at least 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, a provision which has been condemned as setting up referendums to fail. The DPP proposal, which would apply specifically to the nuclear issue, would abolish the minimum requirement and allow the vote to take place without delay and with a clear question on the ballot.

The KMT caucus decided Thursday that a referendum should take place after the Gongliao plant and safety reviews have been completed. The move incited criticism from the opposition because it would allow the government to spend even more money on the project, which has had ups and downs for several decades. KMT lawmakers reportedly said that because of its decision, the plant could not start operating during Ma’s rule, which ends in May 2016. A decision about the fate of the plant would be left up to the next president, reports said.

DPP legislative caucus leader Ker Chien-ming compared Ma and public opinion to two trains on a collision course.

Before the sit-in started, it was reported that Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah would meet KMT city mayors and county magistrates Sunday to discuss the nuclear stalemate. On Friday, Ma held a discussion with DPP Chairman Su at the Presidential Office which was televised live but which failed to provide any solutions.

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