Police step in after tree row descends into ugly scenes

AT ODDS::Protesters said police allowed workers to forcibly remove three ex-teachers, while the city’s tree-removal workers complained of harassment

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - Page 3

Three former teachers from New Taipei Municipal Chiang-Tsui Junior High School in New Taipei City (新北市), were forcibly removed from trees on the school’s campus and escorted to a police station yesterday morning, after they tried to protect the trees from being felled as part of a municipal construction project.

During six years of campaigning to save 32 trees on the school’s grounds from being cut down to make way for a parking lot and a swimming pool, a group of volunteers including environmentalists, retired teachers, local residents and others, have taken various steps to try and protect the trees, including carrying out “tree-sitting” protests this year.

After its tree removal plan was postponed in March, the city government announced on Friday that the tree felling was to be completed within five days and it began operations that day, triggering a clash between those seeking to save the trees and the police.

Before city workers arrived at the site yesterday, the three retired teachers, Huang Hsu-mei (黃淑美), Chen Tsai-luan (鄭彩鑾) and Lai Ling-chu (賴玲珠), each climbed a separate tree and chained themselves to branches.

After the city government’s Public Works Department decided that only two protesters could enter the construction site for up to three hours to oversee the tree removal, others sat in a line outside the gate of the school in an effort to stop trucks from entering.

A number of protesters became upset after the police allowed city workers, who had no legal authority, to climb the trees and forcibly remove the three women, while the workers said they were annoyed by the protesters banging on the gates and shouting at them.

As a result, the protesters outside the gate and the tree-removal workers started pushing and shouting at each other, with the police trying to separate the two groups.

The workers shook tree branches, threw a helmet at one of the teachers, with one reportedly saying: “I have beaten many different kinds of people, but I have not hit a teacher yet,” the protesters said, adding that the police did nothing to curb such inappropriate behavior.

After about an hour, the three teachers were removed from the trees and taken away by the police.