Rare protests breaking out across Vietnam

Police line up on the street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday to direct traffic amid street protests. Photo by VnExpress

They were calling for public protests against provision allowing foreign investors to lease land for 99 years.

Police in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong Province arrested two men on Sunday for “organizing protests illegally,” disrupting security and order, as similar street parades were reported across the country.

Police said Tran Minh Hue, 37, and Nguyen Dinh Thanh, 27, were caught making documents and encouraging others to join a rally on Sunday to protest controversial provisions of a current draft law that would allow foreign investors to lease land in Vietnam’s three Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for up to 99 years.

The men are accused of taking undue advantage of the National Assembly’s ongoing discussion on the provisions to print flyers “with distorted content,” the Vietnam News Agency reported.

It cited the police as saying they found in the homes of the two men thousands of documents prepared to incite public protest. They also seized computers and printers from Hue for evidence.

Police in the neighboring Ho Chi Minh City also said they had held several people for the same charges.

Thousands of people were protesting in the country’s largest city from Sunday morning on Nguyen Hue walking street and Le Duan Street, around the Notre Dame Cathedral and in front of the Independence Palace, holding banners objecting the SEZ bill. The parades sent traffic in several spots into chaos.

Huge crowds were also seen on many streets leading to Tan Son Nhat Airport. Police arrived and recovered public order at 1 p.m.

Many areas in Hanoi and the central Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa and Binh Thuan Provinces were also paralyzed by street protests on Sunday.

An official in Binh Thuan said National Highway 1A across the province was jammed from the afternoon until late at night. Hundreds of traffic police were mobilized to prevent chaos and some officers met strong reactions from the protestors, who threw rocks and damaged police cars, officials said.

Nguyen Manh Hung, Binh Thuan’s Party chief, said that Vietnamese people are not banned from expressing their opinions, but it has to meet certain legal boundaries. “The fact that they blocked the national highway and had many extremist acts was unacceptable,” he said.

Vietnam has delayed the Law on Demonstration several times, so acts to incite public protests are deemed illegal.

The Sunday protests came after the Vietnamese government on Saturday requested the National Assembly (NA) to postpone the bill on SEZs, saying it needed more time to ensure that it meets the aspirations of both legislators and the public.

The NA started discussions on the SEZs last November. The zones are planned in Van Don in Quang Ninh Province, Bac Van Phong in Khanh Hoa Province, and Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang Province.

The bill has received a lot public scrutiny and experts who disagree with it have expressed uncertainty about the efficiency of the SEZs.

Many people have also said they are worried about the potential undermining of national security and violation of sovereignty if foreign investors, especially Chinese, are allowed to rent land for up to 99 years in these areas.

On Wednesday, Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung had dismissed such concerns, saying “there is no word that mentions China” in the draft.

“Foreigners will not be able to migrate easily into the country. Vietnam’s land ownership law is tight enough to prevent them from doing so,” he’d said.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had also told the press on June 7 that the duration of land lease permit was not “the bottom line” of the draft law. The most important thing is to create a favorable mechanism and business environment for investors at the SEZs, he said.

“The government will respect the National Assembly’s decision on this matter, whatever that is,” the PM added.

The SEZ bill, which was initially planned to be passed next week, is scheduled to be discussed again at the National Assembly’s next session in October. – VNExpress

 


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