Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Wind power firm hires thugs to protect site

WHITE SHIRTS:A German firm is hiring muscle as security at a controversial construction site in Miaoli, but there is a problem: The guards are operating well beyond their authority

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff reporter, in YUANLI, Miaoli County

Later that day, we received a telephone call informing us that local residents were blocking the access road to the same site and were preventing a construction vehicle from entering.

We doubled back to observe the protest.

There were about 30 protesters, while two young women were sitting on the unpaved road in front of the gigantic truck, eating a boxed meal.

A surly female employee of InfraVest loomed over them, while the white shirts, who by then had been joined by equally stern-looking men in gray uniforms, looked on.

One white-shirted, high-strung man, his eyes bloodshot, walked around in a daze. He had evidently chewed too much betel nut.

A handful of police officers arrived at the scene, but did not do much aside from meekly calling on the residents to allow the truck in.

One of the gray uniforms, tall, dark-skinned, was more willing to talk, and let on that the white and gray uniforms were “security” that had been hired by InfraVest.

I asked Jerry, as he called himself, which security company they worked for.

“It’s not a company,” he said, adding that they were “kung fu,” possibly a reference to where they had been recruited.

“You know, for when things get a bit rough,” he said.

According to Jerry, the white shirts were receiving NT$1,600 per day, the uniforms like him NT$2,000, while the “certified” security staff were paid NT$5,000 daily for their pains.

Most, if not all, were not from the area.

“They are simple, you know” Jerry said, pointing to one of the protesters. “They are telling lies [about the project].”

He said that a larger number of white shirts had been called in for the next day, when more protests were expected.

We then approached a Miaoli police officer and asked him whether the private security guards that InfraVest had hired had any authority to request personal identification, film people or deny people free movement outside the construction site, as they had done when we had visited earlier in the day.

The officer confirmed what we already knew: They had absolutely no such right.

By about 5pm, after Wang had made a brief, but tempestuous appearance, the standoff had run its course and the truck had declared defeat.

As the residents celebrated their small victory, we overheard one of the white shirts angrily tell a police officer that if it had been up to him, “I would have run the truck right over the goddamned protesters and would make sure that a wind turbine is built on each of their properties.”

The white shirts were obviously on edge, ready to snap — and they did the next day, on Saturday, during another protest near the site.

Video footage obtained by the Times shows a larger number of white shirts pulling at and dragging protesters away, both near the site and atop the ridge.

Another one repeatedly knees and kicks a female protester on the ground, while others are being pushed against construction vehicles.

A female protester was sent to hospital after being forced to the ground and, she claims, was kicked in the head.

Meanwhile, police at the scene, who were far too few to handle the situation, failed to intervene and simply asked the protesters to clear the area.

One protester is considering pressing charges against the security personnel.

Commenting on Saturday’s clashes, InfraVest said yesterday that the security staff intervened the way they did because they were in fear for the students’ safety.

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