Yesterday students occupied the Executive Yuan. Last night, the police forcefully cleared them out. Today we are all still trying to figure out exactly what happened and what we should think about it.
First, a summary of the events as I saw them.
I was at the protests until about 2:00am. I walked around on the streets outside the EY compound, and I did not go inside. From the outside, we could not see very clearly what was happening inside. I went home and watched most of the police action on TV until about 6:00am.
I do not know how many protesters were inside the EY complex. My best guess is 2000-5000, but that is a very shaky guess.
On TV, police mostly used reasonable amounts of force. Remember, this was fundamentally a physical confrontation, so police had to use some force. For the most part, the students sat on the ground with their arms locked, the police pried them away one by one, pulled them out of the complex, and released them into the street. Every once in a while, the police used their sticks, but I did not see any of them take a swing at any protesters’ heads. Mostly the sticks were used to pry the students apart. Police also occasionally used their PVC riot shields to hit the protesters. As the night went on, the police were not making fast enough progress in clearing the complex. Their orders were to clear it by dawn, and they were not going to meet that deadline picking apart the protesters one by one.
Sometime around 3:30 or 4:00am, they began using three water cannon trucks. The water pressure was well below lethal levels. A media cameraman was knocked over, but remember that someone holding a heavy TV camera at their head level is not exactly stable. Protesters with their feet firmly planted were usually able to stand against the water. Most protesters were lying on the ground to begin with and able to withstand the water. However, the water was very effective in weakening resistance. Water saps your strength. It’s a lot harder to resist when you are cold, wet, and miserable. Some protesters, including former Premier Frank Hsieh, lost their glasses to blasts of water. After the water cannon trucks were brought in, the riot police made much faster progress in clearing the courtyard.
TV cameras were not able to record all of the action. The media was not allowed to record the progress inside the EY building. There are indications that the police were less restrained in their use of force there. Also, several protesters from the courtyard claimed that the police had hit them a few times after they were pulled away back through police lines where the cameras could not see them. From what I could see on TV, it looked to me like the police used reasonably appropriate levels of force in clearing the EY compound. However, what I couldn’t see was almost certainly more violent than what I could see.
After the EY compound was cleared, protesters remained on the streets outside. This was after dawn, and many of these protesters were older people angry at the treatment of the students. The police ordered them to clear the streets, some of which are important traffic arteries. Eventually, water cannons were used on these protesters to force them off of one of the big streets (中山南路).
No deaths have been reported. I did not see any firearms or tear gas. There were rumors of people in the crowd with tear gas canisters. (If this is correct, I suspect those people were more likely to be gang members than students. A group preparing for non-violent resistance simply does not arm its members or even allow them to be armed. I am not sure any tear gas canisters were actually used.) The NTU hospital issued a press release this morning saying that it had treated around 60 students for injuries sustained in the protests. I did not hear of any critical injuries. Injured protesters interviewed by the media generally pointed to contusions, bruises, cuts, and pains from being violently pulled.
I will write a separate post with more interpretation. For now, this is simply a statement of what I think happened.