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    » 01/25/2008, 00.00

    VIETNAM

    Scuffles break out in Hanoi between Catholic demonstrators and police

    J.B. An Dang

    Scuffles break out a day after government officials pay a surprise visit to the capital’s archbishop to reduce tensions due to Catholic demonstrations in favour of the archbishop’s demand that the former Apostolic Delegation compound be returned to the Church. Demonstrators entered the building today but were pushed out by kicking and stick-wielding police.

    Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Scuffles broke out today in Hanoi between Catholic demonstrators and police a day after a Vietnamese government delegation visited the Archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, in a gesture meant to reduce tensions sparked by peaceful demonstrations by Vietnamese Catholics ongoing since 18 December in favour of the request made by the diocese that the building that once housed the Apostolic Delegation be returned to the Church.

    Today’s incident came as some 2,000 people—priest, men and women religious and faithful—gathered to protest. Priests and worshippers left St Joseph’s Cathedral in procession (see photo) and made their way to the nearby building that used to be the home of the Apostolic Delegation.

    The procession blocked traffic. Some women entered the old Apostolic Delegation compound to place some flowers on the statue of Our Lady inside the building. Police tried to stop them with sticks, kicks and shoves but provoked instead a reaction by the men in the procession who entered the gardens where they erected a cross.

    The protesters were eventually removed by police but some were arrested, including Lê Quốc Quân, a well-known Catholic lawyer.

    Yesterday the group of government officials who visited Monsignor Ngô was led by Ngô Thị Thanh Hằng, deputy chairman of the capital’s People’s Committee, ostensibly to offer the prelate their best wishes for the lunar New Year (Tết).

    Ms Ngô did not however apologise for or withdraw comments she made on 14 January to the effect that the archbishop was “using religion freedom to provoke anti-government protest” that could “damage relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.” 

    Sources in the archdiocese said that the issue of who owns the building of the former Apostolic Delegation was not discussed.

    The authorities for their part released a statement in which they acknowledged “the contribution made by Archbishop Ngô and the Catholic community for the common cause of a society based on peace, equality, progress and development.”

    The statement echoes similar declarations made in the past by the Communist authorities apparently at odds with the threatening language used by some government officials in recent days.

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    See also

    11/01/2008 VIETNAM
    A “protest” prayer blocks Hanoi traffic
    A thousand catholics go in procession to the building that once housed the apostolic delegation which the archbishop wants returned to the Church. A petition drive has been launched in favour of this step. For almost a month the faithful have been gathering to demonstrate their support for the demand.

    29/02/2008 VIETNAM
    Underground Buddhists support right of Hanoi Catholics over nunciature building
    A representative of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church contests the assertions of government-approved Buddhists who are claiming ownership of the entire zone, including the cathedral and the archbishop's residence. It's a claim advanced to beat back the promise to give the Catholics use of the complex.

    17/01/2008 VIETNAM
    Praying as victims is how Hanoi bishop responds to government’s veiled threats
    Tensions mount as the issue of illegally-seized Church properties is not solved. City authorities accuse bishop of using freedom of religion to provoke protests against the government. Mgr Joseph Ngô describes the former’s abuses and demands justice.

    03/10/2008 VIETNAM
    Now Hanoi trying to pit Buddhists against Catholics
    Deputy public security minister tries to sow divisions among religious groups by raising an old claim about the land where the cathedral, seminary and ex- apostolic delegation now stand, claiming that it was once home to a pagoda. However, a government publication said that the pagoda was once located five kilometres to the north of the disputed land and that it was destroyed in the 1400s.

    01/02/2008 VIETNAM – VATICAN
    Out of “respect for the Pope’ the government yields the former nunciature to Hanoi Catholics
    The still unofficial report comes a day after Cardinal Bertone writes a letter to the capital’s archbishop who met again local authorities over the matter. Prayer “protests” had been going since before Christmas.



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