Taipei, April 12 (CNA) More than 100 farmers from central Taiwan staged a protest in front of the Executive Yuan on Thursday against a science park project that they said would deprive them of water for crop irrigation.
The Changhua County farmers, joined by activists, called on the government to reconsider its plans for expansion of the Central Taiwan Science Park in Erlin in the county.
It was the 12th such protest by Chunghua farmers since May 24, 2011.
The National Science Council, which oversees all science parks in Taiwan, called a halt to construction on March 8, about two weeks into the project.
The council also submitted a revised plan for the fourth phase of the park's expansion at a budget of NT$48.96 billion (US$1.66 billion).
However, the Cabinet has not yet made a decision on the issue, which prompted Thursday's protest by the farmers, said the Alliance Against Water-Jacking.
The science park expansion plan has drawn protests from environmental activists, local residents and farmers, who worry that the project will pollute the local environment and channel irrigation water away from the farming areas.
So far, NT$10.3 billion has been spent on the project but only one manufacturer has committed to building a plant in the park, according to the alliance.
"Why continue with such a huge project for which there is no demand?" asked Wu Yin-ning, an alliance member, at the demonstration.
The faces of the young activists and mostly elderly farmers were smeared with mud from Jhuoshuei River, the major water source in the Changhua area.
They said it symbolized the river water and the mud that have accompanied their growth and aging, in contrast to the "water-jacking" project that would deprive them of their livelihood.
Several writers and artists also voiced support for the demonstrators' demands.
Poet Wu Sheng, a Changhua native, asked whether the government officials sitting in their offices did not feel bad seeing the elderly farmers standing in the sun after traveling for hours.
"We are not asking for fame, fortune or anything like that," Wu said. "We only want to protect 'Taiwan's granary' and continue to farm. That is our humble request."
Novelist Ai Ya, 67, said that since she was a child the rice grown in the Changhua region has been of good quality and has been sold well, thanks to the irrigation from the river.
If the area becomes an industrial zone and the rice paddies dry up, good quality rice will not be grown there anymore, she said.
Poet and film director Hung Hung said the government should stand on the side of farmers instead of the project developers.
At present, the government's position is diametric to the people's, he said, adding that he hopes the authorities will wake up soon.
Legislator Chang Hsiao-feng of the opposition People's First Party also expressed support for the protesters' views.
"There will be no life if there's no water, and no bread-basket without rural villages," he said.
The farmers vowed to hold another demonstration if their requests are not met.
At one point, scuffles broke out when police tried to disperse the protesters on grounds that the demonstration was in violation of the lawful assembly regulations.
(By Zoe Wei, Hsieh Chia-chen and Kendra Lin)