Foreigners raise questions about Taiwan's police tactics

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A foreign artist witnessed an altercation between police and foreign tourists at Beiping East Road yesterday, raising questions about the limit of police authority over tourists and new residents.

In the wake of violent confrontations between law enforcement officers and student activists early Monday morning, several new residents and tourists have raised concerns over the so-called brutality exhibited toward the students.

A director from Ireland, who has been in Taiwan since January working on a short film project, said that they personally witnessed two Asian tourists have their camera confiscated by officers stationed at roadblocks on the streets around Beiping East Road. The police were allegedly physically and verbally violent toward the tourists.

The director and a fellow Canadian artist were also caught between students and riot police on Monday, and, because their residence is located close to Shandao Temple station, witnessed firsthand the violent confrontations that broke out early Monday morning.

According to the artists, unarmed students were chased by riot police with batons and shields. The two artists tried to help some students held by police, only to have a police brandish their batons at them and order them to leave the area. The police then allegedly pursued the artists and the students into the artists' residence, striking the doors and windows with their batons. Only after an explanation from a security guard did the officer leave. While leaving their lodging yesterday, the artists witnessed officers drilling barricades into the ground and others holding batons instead of having the weapons stowed on their belts.

New Residents Concerned Over Demonstration

Several new residents of the country have raised concerns over the student protest as well as the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement of the government, but have chosen to remain anonymous as a result of fear from the unclear policies regarding foreigners' right to participate and comment on demonstrations, as rumour circulate that foreigners could easily face deportation.

When asked of his thoughts regarding the protest, one new resident said "They (the students) need to learn how to handle international media. It's disappointing to see the lack of publicity this is getting overseas. It's also been confusing to follow the protests as the demands suddenly change. Why aren't the students organising press conferences on such important changes to the movement? Or did they do so and I completely missed it? I can't even sort out what is the official hashtag for this movement on Twitter."

"Although it was clear from the last election that the KMT would pursue a strategy of closer ties with China," answered a foreigner when asked on how the government should be handling the situation, "they should understand that their current record-low approval level means that they have to be very careful with sensitive issues like this. A free vote instead of the typical party line vote would have been appropriate, and a way of telling people that we are aware that we aren't popular anymore so we realise we can't force through things like this. Also, if the economy is so important, there are lots of things to do domestically that can fix the poor economy. The income gap is the biggest problem in Taiwan."