04/08/2008, 00.00
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Ultimatum ordering evacuation of land in Dong Da parish expires

by J.B. An Dang
The authorities want an end to a protest that began on 6 January for the return of land bought in 1928 by Redemptorist fathers on which a church is located. In 1954 when the Communist took over and Vietnam was divided the religious who ran the place were jailed or deported. The original 60,000 m2 are now reduced to 2,700 m2.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The ultimatum requiring Catholics to end their prayer meetings to demand the return of land belonging to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Hanoi has expired. The ultimatum was included in an injunction issued on Sunday by the People’s Committee of Dong Da district, where the church is located, which warned protestors that with their prayer campaign at the site of the disputed land they were engaged in "illegal activities", and threatened them with “extreme actions” if the prayers that began on 6 January did not end by noon yesterday.

The 60,000 m2 (15 acres) Catholics want back was bought by Redemptorist Fathers in 1928. On it, they build a church, a convent and a seminary. In 1954 when the Communists took control and most of Redemptorists were either jailed or deported. The plot of land was seized piece by piece, reducing the property down to 2,700 m2 (half an acre).

Since then several petitions were presented calling for the return of the land to its rightful owners. In the meantime though the authorities built a hospital and ceded several sections to state companies or government members.

The latest example is a grant to a garment company, Chiến Thắng, which finally spurred the faithful to action. On 6 January they erected a cross and placed statues and images of the Virgin on the property. Processions and prayers (see photo) were organised as well as a permanent sit-in.

“We have no choice but to gather peacefully and in prayer on the disputed land to draw the government’s attention to the injustice we are suffering,” said a protester.

When the ultimatum expired hundreds of religious and lay people were outside the compound praying. Many uniformed and plain clothes police agents were also present, taking pictures and videotaping the protesters.

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