08/08/2011, 00.00
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Cau Ram: thousands of Catholics protest against property seizures

by Joseph Dang
At least 5 thousand people demonstrated in the diocese of Vinh, waving Vatican flags. The faithful have demonstrated for the restitution of church property and the arrests of young activists. Hanoi Priest : more incidents of repression against the Vietnamese Church.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Brandishing Vatican flags (pictured), over 5 thousand Catholics from the parishes of Cau Ram, Yen Dai and Ke Gai - Diocese of Vinh, North Vietnam - marched through the streets of the city. The faithful were protesting against the local authority decision to seize land in Ram Cau belonging to the Catholic Church to build a park and monument dedicated to soldiers of the Vietnamese army. The protesters also denounced an undercover police operation aimed at kidnapping young Christian activists.

The question of land ownership – a tug of war between Catholics and the local or central government - is a widespread and unsolved problem in Vietnam. At the time of the war, the church of Cau Ram was transformed into a military base, becoming a target of the U.S. Army. After the war, the Hanoi government declared the area a "place of memory" to "preserve and protect for future generations, in memory of American war crimes."

Requests to have the land returned to Catholics - to rebuild the church, whose original building dates back to the early 900 – have so far remained unanswered. In contrast, the area was at first divided into lots for the construction of a road linking Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh's birthplace, about 330 km north.

In a second phase, the local authorities authorized the construction of a residential complex, with private apartments worth millions of dollars to be allocated to government officials. However, protests by Catholics during the last two years have led to the project being shelved (see AsiaNews 25/05/2010 Catholics protest in Cau Ram over historic church turned into flats). On 27 July, finally, the Nghe An provincial government decided to build a public park with the monument dedicated to soldiers.

The protesters also denounced a covert police operation aimed at arresting young activists without warrants. In the aftermath of anti-Chinese protests over the South China Sea dispute, the Vietnamese government has launched a crackdown on dissent targeting Catholics in particular. Local sources confirmed that eight Vinh university students and lay people were arrested between July 30 and August 3.

On July 30, three people were detained at Saigon airport. Three days later, plainclothes agents arrested three Catholic students of Vinh university. On 3 August it was the turn of Francis Dang Xuan Tuong, released two days later. On the same day in Hanoi agents have arrested blogger Paulus Le Son, to date the family has received no news on the fate of the young man, while the police deny his arrest.

Fr. Joseph Nguyen, of the diocese of Hanoi, warns: "These events are a prelude for other incidents of repression against the Church in Vietnam."

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See also
Catholics protest in Cau Ram over historic church turned into flats
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Catholics are beaten, threatened for demanding the return of Church property


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