Police in Taiwan fired water cannons on Monday to disperse hundreds of anti-nuclear protesters refusing to give up their campaign despite a government pledge to halt work on the island’s fourth nuclear power plant.
The protesters had been occupying a main Taipei boulevard since Sunday, demanding the government scrap plans to begin operation of Taiwan’s nearly-completed fourth reactor.
“Anti-nuclear public opinion is very high,” said 26-year-old protester Huang Ting-chiao. “The government should respond to the public’s desires as soon as possible.”
Watch: Construction halted at Taiwan nuclear plant after protests
Taiwan sits on the so-called ring of fire region of seismic activity around the Pacific Ocean and many of the island’s residents are alarmed at the prospect of an earthquake triggering a disaster like the one at Fukushima in Japan that followed an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered on Sunday before the government announced it would halt construction pending a public vote.
Despite that, hundreds of protesters remained out overnight and police used water canons to clear them on Monday morning.
Media reported several people were injured but police denied that.
Anti-nuclear activists, who have demanded a reduction in the number of eligible voters required to pass a referendum on the island's nuclear programme - vowed to continue protests in front of the Presidential Office.
Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah said on Monday the government saw no need to amend rules governing referendums on the island.
"The government has already made rather substantial concessions over the possible start-up of the fourth nuclear power plant," Jiang said at a news conference in Taipei. He was referring to two resolutions made by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and members of the ruling Kuomintang party on Sunday. The first resolution called for construction of the project to be halted. The second concerned calls for a conference on maintaining power supply.
Jiang said the government agreed to seal off the No1 reactor after a safety inspection, suspend construction on the No2 reactor, and let the public decide whether a referendum was needed.
The people might have different opinions on energy prices, Jiang said, suggesting that some might opt for cheaper nuclear power if electricity bills rise sharply. The economy ministry has warned that electricity prices would rise by 40 per cent without nuclear power.
The current rules state half of all eligible voters - about 9 million - must take part in the poll and half of those who do must approve the proposal for it to pass.
Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, proposed lowering the number of required voters to 25 per cent of the current number. Jiang questioned the wisdom of the move saying it might not reflect the majority view.
Ma said that by suspending rather than scrapping the plant, the government had left the door open for the next generation to decide the issue. Anti-nuclear activists said the government was neglecting its responsibility by leaving the matter unresolved.
"We will continue our protest in front of the Presidential Office until the government agrees to lower the threshold to hold a referendum …" said Chiu Yi-ling, spokeswoman for the activists.
She condemned Taipei city government for forcibly removing protesters.