06/12/2018, 17.31
VIETNAM
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As violence continues, the bishop of Vinh calls for respect for the popular will

by J.B. An Dang

Protesters push back 120 police agents and seize the Provincial People's Committee building. Police arrest 102 people in connection with the events on Sunday. For the Bishop of Vinh, "the bill should be widely discussed by people at all levels” and “go to a referendum.”

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The Vietnamese National Assembly was expected to adopt a bill on special administrative and economic units on 15 June. The latter are located in Vân Đồn (Quảng Ninh province), Bắc Vân Phong (Khánh Hòa province) and Phú Quốc Island (Kiên Giang province) and would be open to Chinese companies.

The bill includes incentives. If approved, it would allow the Chinese companies to obtain concessions of up to 99 years for land in the zones, which are located in areas of significant geopolitical and historical interest.

Following the protests caused by the bill, the government announced its postponement to a later unspecified date.

Conversely, the National Assembly today approved the Internet Security Law, which imposes severe restrictions such as requiring users to provide personal information and blocking access to Google, Facebook, YouTube and political blogs.

To this end, some 10,000 members of the cyber war military unit will monitor the "wrong political views" that proliferate on the Internet.

Meanwhile, recent protests have been criticised by the authorities who have threatened mass arrests in the southern province of Bình Thuận. In fact, local authorities said that Sunday’s protests had "dire consequences".

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, the deputy head of the Provincial Propaganda Department Huỳnh Thái Dương said that "the act of vandalising government offices is incredible in peacetime.”

Indeed, Sunday’s protest caused major damage to the Provincial People's Committee building as well as the destruction of scores of vehicles. Sunday events are "comparable to a revolt".

For Dương, such actions are "unacceptable" and "must be punished". State media announced the arrest of 102 people in connection with the violence.

However, as the press conference was taking, a large number of protesters blocked a section of the National Highway No 1, paralysing traffic between northern and southern Vietnam for hours.

Tuy Phong District president Huỳnh Văn Điể accused protesters of setting fire to police cars on the highway and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

In the incident, protesters supported by the local residents held back 120 police officers and forced them to retreat into the local police station. Afterwards, the latter handed themselves over to the demonstrators, removed their uniforms and left all the equipment behind (picture 1).

The police station was vandalised and vehicles were burned (picture 2). This suggests that members of the police force are unwilling to fight their own people protesting against what appears to many Vietnamese to be a sell-out to China.

Late at night, hundreds of protesters stormed the provincial Committee Committee's building for the second night in a row, seriously clashing with police.

A petition for the immediate release of 102 people arrested was rejected. This morning, another group of 99 people was arrested in Bình Thuận.

According to state media, police in neighbouring provinces also arrested dozens of people for participating in "illegal" protests, including workers from the Taiwanese-owned Polyene textile company in Ho Chi Minh City who were on strike.

The bishop of Vinh, who also chairs the Justice and Peace Commission, Mgr Nguyễn Thái Hợp issued a statement urging the government to refrain from violence against its own people and to listen to them.

For the prelate, the economic zone bill "can seriously compromise our national security and sovereignty. We need to hear everyone to know what they think. Therefore, the bill should be widely discussed by people at all levels, especially by specialists through learned debates. In the end it should to go to a referendum, as established by law."

Lastly, "the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam suggests, respectfully, that the National Assembly should respect the popular will.”

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