About a thousand parishioners in Yên Đông began the action, joined by thousands of others, Catholics and non-Catholics. Police intervened but later pulled back because of the large number of demonstrators who want the company to shut down and pay for environmental damage. “We are doing this to protect people and the future of our children."
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – More than 18,000 people on Monday demonstrated unexpectedly in Kỳ Anh, a city in Hà Tĩnh province, across from the offices of the Formosa Plastics Group, a Taiwanese steel firm responsible for a pollution crisis that has lasted for months off the coast of Vietnam’s central provinces.
About a thousand parishioners from the Yên Đông church, located near the firm’s headquarters, in the Vũng Ang economic zone, sparked the protest. In the early morning, the faithful went straight to the offices for a sit-in. Eventually, thousands of other residents, Catholics and others, their curiosity aroused, joined the protest. People came from other parishes and villages as well.
Protesters want Formosa Plastics to stop immediately the release of liquid waste into the Quyên river since thousands of fishermen and farmers live on its shores. People also demand adequate compensation for the damages they suffered and the eviction of the company from Vietnam.
Starting in April, 70 tonnes of fish died because of pollution caused by a plant owned by the Taiwanese conglomerate after its waste was released into the sea. More than 200,000 people in the provinces of Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình and Huế have been affected.
The government has failed so far to compensate 40,000 affected fishermen nor the other thousands of people working in the fishing industry.
The Church and civil society groups have continued to criticise the government in Hanoi, which they blame for delaying the investigation, failing to protect the health of residents and cracking down with violence against peaceful protests.
A few minutes after the start of the protest, police arrived to the scene, setting up a protective line around the headquarters of the Formosa Plastics Group, but when the number of protesters soared, they left.
"Thanks to Catholics and others, the demonstration took place peacefully and for our rights,” a young man told AsiaNews. “If company bosses do not meet our demands in the coming days, there will be more events."
"As long as the Formosa Group exists in our country, we will fight to get rid of them,” others said. “We are doing this to protect people and the future of our children."
For now, the Vietnamese Government has refused to end relations with the Taiwanese company – with whom it has a contract for the next 70 years – but it has imposed a US$ 500 million fine.
In late September, more than 500 families in Nghê An province signed a petition against the steel plant.
Thousands of people of Kỳ Anh District also sent letters of protest to the National Assembly demanding the payment of damages, but have not yet received any answer.