Thousands rally in Taipei against controversial nuclear plant project

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 6:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 9:00am

Thousands of anti-nuclear activists staged a sit-in in front of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's office yesterday, in a two-day protest demanding that the government drop a controversial nuclear power plant project that has been hotly debated on the island for decades.

Wearing yellow headbands bearing anti-nuclear slogans, the crowd of activists held position outside the president's office despite heavy rain.

"If the government does not want to take responsibility for stopping the plant project, then it should relax the requirements for a referendum," a protest organiser said. Under current rules, half of all eligible voters must take part in the referendum and half of those who do must approve of the proposal for the project to go ahead.

The NT$283 billion (HK$72.2 billion) project, proposed by the Taiwan Power Company in 1980, has triggered waves of protests over the years.

Construction for the project began in 2009 and commercial start-up of the plant, now 98 per cent completed, was scheduled for 2016. But the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan ignited new protests, forcing Ma's government to agree to safety checks.

Ma made further concessions in a meeting with opposition Democratic Progressive Party head Su Tseng-chang on Friday, agreeing to delay starting up the plant pending a referendum.

But the anti-nuclear activists put little faith in the president's promise to resolve the matter.

"Without lowering the threshold for the referendum, there is no way the issue can be resolved," said Lin Fei-fan, a student leader of the Sunflower movement, an earlier protest against a trade services pact with the mainland, who was at the anti-nuclear demonstration.

Lin, who led the occupation of parliament to force Ma to withdraw the trade pact, said the president must take into account former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung's opposition to the nuclear project.

The latter, a seasoned politician known for his anti-nuclear stance, began a hunger strike on Tuesday.

The mass protest was set to continue today with organisers planning a march down major avenues in Taipei that will end in front of Ma's office.

Other sit-ins and marches were staged in southern and northern Taiwan yesterday in support of the protest in Taipei.