Conflict over an Aboriginal occupation of a portion of Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei continued yesterday, as police moved in to clear away new obstructions.
“We respect your freedom of speech, but please respect Taipei citizens’ right of way,” police loudspeakers blared as more than 100 officers swept the protesters’ stools and umbrellas from the road before swiftly wiring together a line of metal fences to confine the demonstrators to their tents on the sidewalk.
Police also cut down a line of posters hanging from the tents before leveling one tent on the grounds that it could not be considered part of protesters’ “living space.”
Works of art, painted rocks and tents in the road were cleared away earlier this week, but protesters renewed their sit-in afterward.
Protesters were surrounded and hauled to the sidewalk, but throughout the day, they repeatedly attempted to resume their protest in the road before being forced off by police officers.
A handful of Aborigines affiliated with the Aboriginal Transitional Justice Classroom have been occupying the site since February to protest the government’s decision to exclude privately owned land from the demarcations of “traditional Aboriginal areas.”
The stipulation effectively denies local tribes the right to exercise development vetoes and other rights over the affected land.
Road occupation has been a key part of their strategy to raise awareness of Aboriginal land rights, which previously saw them break into a forbidden zone outside the Presidential Office Building.
They have since been charged with violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) and the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) after failing to apply to occupy Ketagalan Boulevard.
“The Republic of China did not apply before it came to Taiwan,” said a protester named Nabu, a Bunun, adding that the protest is part of a long-running struggle on attitudes on Aboriginal relations.
“The idea is that our lifestyle has to be in accordance with their ideas and we can only survive in the circle they draw around us,” he said.
He attributed the police action to the scheduled celebrations of the one-year anniversary of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration on May 20.
“Tsai does not want her guests to see us here — she wants this space clean so she does not have to face what she has failed to do,” he said, adding that the protesters intend to imitate the year-long occupation by the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan outside the Legislative Yuan.
“Don’t the police know that we will keep coming back? If we have to force our way back, they will look even worse,” he said.
While the alliance has conducted an on-going occupation since 2008, its tents do not block the road, and are instead pitched on the sidewalk and in parking spaces.
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