Academics yesterday called for government intervention after opponents to the Wenlin Yuan urban renewal project in Taipei and construction workers sent by Le Young Construction Co have clashed in recent days.
“It’s the government who tore down the houses belonging to the Wang (王) family, leading to this standoff. It cannot simply be left alone,” Fred Chiu (丘延亮), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, told a press conference beside the construction site. “You [the government] made the mess, come clean it up.”
The Wenlin Yuan is an urban renewal project initiated by Le Young to demolish several apartment complexes in Shilin District (士林) and build a new luxury high-rise apartment building.
The project was approved without the approval of the Wangs, who owned two properties on the project site and refused to take part.
However, a demolition squad escorted by 1,000 police officers sent by the Taipei City Government demolished the Wangs’ homes in March, after serious clashes with more than 400 people who supported the Wangs’ decision to defend their properties.
The incident triggered public discussions and proposals to revise the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), which green ights an urban renewal project as long as one-fourth of the property owners and the project site agree to it.
The Wangs insisted on staying on the site and built a temporary house not long after the demolition, while their supporters also camped outside the structure to show their support.
Occasional clashes have occurred since June, when Le Young attempted to resume the construction, and the conflicts intensified in the past few days.
“I just came back [to the project site] from filing a sexual harrassment lawsuit against a Le Young construction worker who grabbed my breasts during a conflict on Tuesday when clashes broke out yesterday [Wednesday],” a woman surnamed Liang (梁) said. “Yesterday, a construction worker grabbed me by my hair, and tried to push my face to the ground.”
Liang was saved by a reporter from the Chinese-language Lih Pao, Lu Yi-yung (呂苡榕), on the scene.
“It was just out of human instinct to help out when seeing someone treated that way,” Lu said. “I held up Liang, and pushed away the construction worker, telling him to back off.”
The conflict on Wednesday happened in the afternoon when a construction worker started a hydraulic shovel parked in the middle of the construction site.
Worried that Le Young may demolish the Wangs’ temporary house, their supporters quickly surrounded the machine.
A video clip shot by a supporter shows the worker continuing to operate the machine. Two of the supporters jumped onto the machine, trying to stop it. Another worker in red rushed to the scene, and tried to bash the supporters surrounding the hydraulic shovel with his helmet, leading to more pushing and shoving.
Le Young later filed a lawsuit for offenses causing bodily harm against six people — including Lu.
“The Wangs still hold legal ownership of the two plots of land included in the urban renewal project site, hence, any action by Le Young on the Wangs’ land is intrusion of private property,” National Chengchi University’s Department of Land Economics professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) said. “The police and the government should help the Wangs to defend their property rights.”
While saying that Le Young has not received permission to resume construction because it has not completed the administrative process, Taipei City Construction Management Office director Chang Kang-wei (張剛維) responded to the call by saying the government will not intervene in a dispute concerning property ownership and urged the two sides to settle the issue by negotiation or through legal action.