Taiwan uses water cannon to disperse anti-nuclear protesters

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators protesting the construction of a fourth nuclear plant, in front of Taipei Railway station in Taipei on April 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators protesting the construction of a fourth nuclear plant, in front of Taipei Railway station in Taipei on April 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan police on Monday used water cannon to dislodge hundreds of overnight sit-in demonstrators demanding the scrapping of a nearly completed nuclear power plant, one of the most controversial issues to have gripped the island for 30 years.

Tens of thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators blockaded one of the busiest streets in the capital on Sunday, forcing the ruling Kuomintang party to yield and halt construction work at the plant.

This concession by the government led to a large number of demonstrators leaving the area, but hundreds remained, prompting police to use water canon to disperse the crowds on Monday morning.

Claiming they were attacked, club-waving riot police officers chased some protesters. The police also carried away some sit-in protesters lying on the ground.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin forecast the tough measures during a press conference on Sunday night when he denounced the sit-in for disrupting the lives of ordinary people.

"The demonstrators should protest against the government rather than Taipei citizens. I may take any measures needed to ensure traffic can return normal on Monday."

A Kuomintang spokesman announced Sunday that there would be "no further construction" of reactor one - only safety checks will be done and after that it (reactor one) will be sealed for storage.

"Construction of reactor two will be terminated. In the future, any such commercial operation will be decided by a referendum," he added.

Premier Jiang Yi-hua added on Monday: "In this way, we would leave an option open to our next generation when choosing energy (sources)," he told reporters.

The power station has been one of the most contentious projects in Taiwan.

Intense political wrangling has repeatedly delayed its construction, which began in 1999 and has already cost around TW$300 billion (S$12.4 billion).

Concerns over Taiwan's nuclear power stations have been mounting since 2011, when Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by a tsunami that knocked out power to its cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown.