Angry Taiwanese tempt the heavy hand of the law | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.05.2014
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Angry Taiwanese tempt the heavy hand of the law

Tens of thousands of people took to Taipei's streets to demonstrate against nuclear power, with police deploying water cannon to remove them. For now, the government has announced a halt to the construction of a plant.

In the early hours on Monday, April 28, there were a few hundred anti-nuclear energy protesters blockading an intersection in the middle of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

Bo-shu was one of them. Like her fellow campaigners, she was also wearing a see-through rain poncho. The 24-year-old said she couldn't remember how many nights she had spent protesting against nuclear energy.

"What kind of a country is this that forces us to spend our nights protesting on the streets and go to work exhausted the next day?" Shortly before she spoke with DW, police had blocked Zhongxiao West Road, on which lies the main train station. On Sunday afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters had marched there to stop the construction of what would be the country's fourth nuclear power plant.

Anti-nuclear protester in Taiwan wears a rain coat

Many of the demonstrators stayed out all night before going to work the next day

Earthquake prone Taiwan

The plant has been under construction since the end of the 1990s and is now nearly finished. The rising costs of construction, issues with security checks and political disputes have stalled the project. To add to the misgivings of nuclear energy opponents, concern over the disaster at Japan's nuclear power plant in Fukushima three years ago casts an additional shadow of doubt over the project and inspired more people to speak out against nuclear energy. Like Japan, Taiwan is an island nation which is also prone to earthquakes.

In Taiwan, there are already three nuclear power plants in operation with a total of six reactors. The plants, which were built in the 70s and 80s, are due to be taken off the grid by the year 2025. Currently, around a fifth of the country's energy needs are met with atomic energy.

Government for referendum

Taiwanese Prime Minister Jiang Yih-hua announced after the protests that construction of the plant would be stopped. The government has agreed on a referendum for the controversial project. Anti-nuclear protesters, however, are against a vote, saying a popular vote would be enormously difficult to carry out; in line with existing laws, over half of the 18 million eligible voters would have to vote against nuclear power to make a change.

The state-owned energy company has warned it could go bankrupt should the construction of its power plant be scrapped. Taipower CEO Hwang Jung-chiu said the debt it has acquired over the years for the construction could run the company into the ground; 283 billion NT - which is around 6.7 billion euros - had already been spent on the new plant.

Hunger strikes and police operation

For over a week, former democracy activist and former head of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been on a hunger strike. The 72-year-old Lin Yi-hsiung had announced he would refuse to ingest food until plans for the power plant had been completely scrapped. He has been in the hospital since Monday, April 26.

Anti Atomkraft Protest Taiwan 26.4.2014

The demonstrators reject a referendum

At six AM, He Bo-shu was sitting on the ground at the intersection when police deployed water canon. He said she would not be deterred. She said she and her fellow demonstrators would not be that easy to get rid of. "We will prevail!"

At one point, police start plucking protesters from the street by hand. At around 7 AM, traffic at Zhongxiao West Road starts picking up as people make their way to work. The only remnants of the night's demonstrations are a few bits of graffiti sprawled about the concrete.