Thousands protest in Taipei against nuclear power

Thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei on Sunday to protest against nuclear energy, a day before the first anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou's second-term inauguration.

Protesters began the 5.7-kilometer march from the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in eastern Taipei to the Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, where a rally was held in the evening.

Some protesters proceeded to the legislature to stage a 24-hour sit-in and relay hunger strike.

The demonstrators demanded a nuclear-free country and an immediate stop to the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant, located in the densely populated northeastern part of the island.

They also urged the general public to join a signature drive aimed at making the referendum petition process less difficult.

Several polls have indicated that between 60 and 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant, with legislators across party lines currently discussing whether to allow a referendum on the issue.

A simple majority is required to pass a proposal. For a decision to be valid, 50 percent of eligible voters must vote on the issue, meaning 4.57 million people.

Many observers consider this year to be critical, as the builder and operator of the fourth facility, Taiwan Power Co., plans to begin loading fuel rods next year and start operations in 2015.

Taiwan has two nuclear power stations in the north and one in the south of the country. All have operated safely and profitably for many years, while providing nearly 20 percent of the island's electricity.

Sunday's protest was deliberately staged a day before the first anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou's second-term inauguration.

The Presidential Office said Ma will spend Monday conducting an "energy tour" in central Taiwan where he is scheduled to visit a windmill and the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, famous for its research and development of solar energy.

According to police, around 2,900 showed up at Sunday's demonstration, although organizers claim around 50,000 people took part in the protest.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in March to commemorate the second anniversary of the nuclear disaster in northern Japan triggered by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.