Brawl breaks out at Kuokuang protest

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A huge brawl broke out yesterday at the hearing of the plan to build the Kuokuang Petrochemical Park held by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) in Changhua County, where opponents and proponents of the park’s construction resorted to physical attacks to express their divergent points of view.

Hours before the hearing, the opposing protestors — which numbered almost 500 — used rods and protest banners, as well as their fists, to attack each other outside the township hall in Dacheng.

They broke the barrier erected by police, around 200 of which were dispatched and were eventually able to subdue the crowd in time for the hearing to begin. No injuries were reported, although the people continued to hurl epithets at each other, causing much noise and disturbance.

The MOEA jointly announced with Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co. that the eighth naphtha cracker plant would be built in Changhua County’s Dacheng Township. The hearing was the government’s attempt to brief local residents on the latest developments while getting their opinions on the project.

The project is budgeted at NT$600 billion and is slated to occupy 2,836 hectares of coastal land, which has incited the ire of environmentalists as the designated area is home to major wetlands. The park will likely produce industrial pollution that will negatively impact the biodiversity in the region, opponents argued.

Dacheng Township Tungchung village chief Wang Chieh-nan urged the public to come to realize that the park is the future of the region. Changhua County councilor Chen Yih-heng concurred, adding that the complex will boost the local economy and retain the area’s population.

“If the local economy is in the dumps, there is nothing else to discuss,” Chen argued.

Local anti-pollution activist Lin Lien-tsung countered that Dacheng residents and regional agriculture alike would suffer terribly if the project comes to fruition. The park could potentially deplete the underground water supply and exacerbate the problem of land subsidence.

Dacheng Township resident Hsu Yih-chieh said the project would “completely destroy” the coastal fishery industry. The damage to marine life would be irreversible, Hsu said, adding, “We are fighting for life, not for the sake of being the opposition.”

The first phase is scheduled to be completed in 2016. The construction venue of the park has been changed numerous times after each proposal resulted in heavy protests from residents.

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