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Catholics protest Hanoi park on 'church land'

Latest update : 2008-09-23

Images obtained by FRANCE 24 showed scores of Vietnamese Catholics protesting the construction of a public park in Hanoi under the watchful gaze of police. Protesters argue that the site rightfully belongs to the church.

Scores of Vietnamese Catholics have erected statues and crosses on the construction site of a public park in Hanoi, protesting that the land rightfully belongs to the church.


Images obtained by FRANCE 24 showed that the construction of the park continued Monday behind security barriers covered with barbed wire. Scores of praying Catholics were allowed to quietly protest near the site, carefully watched by security forces.


The images were discreetly taken on a mobile phone, days after the Associated Press Hanoi bureau chief claimed he was beaten by police, on Sept. 19, and his camera seized as he attempted to film the start of the construction. The ministry denied this, adding that the journalist had violated Vietnam's laws by taking photos at a prohibited area.


The government has accused the protesters of disrupting public order and says their actions are in violation of the law.


The site is the former nunciature of the Vatican in Vietnam, a mostly Buddhist country that is nonetheless home to nearly 6 million Catholics - the second largest community among Asian countries. The property, like many others, was requisitioned by the communists after the French colonials left in 1954.


“There are clearly still problems between the Vietnamese communist state and a community that have always been treated as outsiders,” explains Jean-Louis Margolin, a researcher at the South East Asia Research Institute in France. “They suffered a lot more in the past, with serious persecution.”


A similar dispute late last year saw hundreds of people attending prayer vigils in Hanoi to press for the return of another piece of land they said was seized 50 years ago.


“This could spark trouble in rural areas, where there are lots of Catholics, or in the heart of Vietnam. The regime clearly wants to avoid that,” adds Margolin.


On Sept. 19, Hanoi's archbishop denounced Vietnamese authorities for letting the work continue, warning the government that the church would never give up its claim to the land.


The Hanoi government is working toward establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung paid a visit to the Pope in Jan. 2007.

Date created : 2008-09-23