HONG KONG — About 25 Taiwanese opposition activists were hospitalized in Taipei on Friday after being beaten by riot police who moved in at dawn to clear protesters encamped all week in a downtown street. Three policemen were also hospitalized, authorities said.
The protesters, who were demanding constitutional reform to provide for direct election of Taiwan's president, had defied repeated police orders to disperse. About 1,000 people were at the protest site when the nearly three-hour operation began at 4 a.m.
"Twenty-five people were rushed to Taiwan University Hospital to be treated for injuries," the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which organized the protest, said in a Friday afternoon statement. "Nine people suffered from repeated blows to the head, two were strangled with wooden sticks, one person received 12 blows throughout his body, and one person's life is currently at risk."
The university hospital said 24 protesters were hospitalized and described the person who was most badly hurt as in "serious" condition.
Police said three policemen were hospitalized and that 15 policewomen were treated for bites and bruises suffered when they tried to remove protesters from the Taipei Railway Station.
Police began the clearing action by removing barbed-wire barricades that had encircled the protesters on three sides since the demonstration began Monday. They drenched part of the protest site by using a water cannon. More than 2,000 officers--including helmeted police equipped with clubs and shields plus some plainclothes police carrying clubs--then moved in on the protesters, dragging or carrying many of them onto waiting buses.
"It was really terrifying," said Fu-mei Chang, an opposition member of Taiwan's National Assembly who is also employed at Stanford University. Lena Huang, an opposition party spokeswoman, said police were reasonably restrained in places visible to reporters but that they were rougher in places that were largely out of sight, such as restroom areas.
Chang said she personally saw "five or six" protesters either being beaten by police or choked with clubs. Two Taiwan journalists warned her that "there were a couple of civilians beaten up very badly in the bathroom," she said. Chang added that she saw plainclothes police officers use a club to put a chokehold on one protester.
Another man, Kuo Chun, was so severely injured by a chokehold that he apparently was not breathing when he arrived at the hospital, and emergency measures were used to revive him, Chang said.
Chang said she saw eight injured students at the hospital, including one who had "six or seven" stitches in the head, and that National Assemblywoman Wu Ching-kuei had a severe leg bruise.
Interior Minister Wu Poh-hsiung said the police used restraint.
Chang said this was the first protest in Taiwan in which she had participated but that based on conversations with other opposition activists who have experienced the breakup of previous demonstrations, it is true that "the police have made some improvements."