Thousands turned out in major Vietnamese cities on Sunday and Monday to protest government plans to grant long-term leases for foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs), prompting clashes with police that saw demonstrators beaten and an unknown number detained, sources in the country said.
The rare public protests saw dozens taken into custody in Saigon, with some assaulted by police, one protester, a member of Vietnam’s Unified Buddhist Church, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on June 10.
“We were protesting peacefully and didn’t incite anyone,” Huynh Tuan Tuyen said. “But they grabbed me and pushed me onto a bus on Le Duan Street, with five or six policemen beating me the whole time.”
“Then they grabbed more people and put them onto the bus,” he said.
“But I took a chance and kicked open the back door of the bus and jumped out,” Huynh said, adding that he then joined the protest for another 20 minutes before leaving to go to a hospital in Vung Tao for stitches to his injured mouth.
“Some of my teeth were broken, and I was bleeding a lot,” he said.
Clashes and dozens of detentions were also reported in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, with protests in both cities also targeting a new government-proposed law on cybersecurity, Vietnamese sources said.
Meanwhile, in Nha Trang city in south-central Vietnam’s coastal Khanh Hoa province, thousands took to the streets on June 10 to protest the government’s plans amid fears that leases for periods as long as 99 years could go to Chinese-owned and operated firms.
“I love my country, and I have no reactionary motivations,” one protester, Bao Vinh told RFA. “I only want to voice my concerns and express how upset I am.”
“I’m raising my voice for Vietnam. If we lose our country, we won’t be able to live in peace,” he said.
‘We can’t accept this law’
Thousands of workers at the Taiwan-owned Pou Yuen footware company meanwhile went on strike on Monday to protest Vietnam’s proposed law granting concessions for SEZs in Vietnam’s central coastal Khanh Hoa province, in Quang Ninh in the country’s northeast, and in Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand.
“We can’t accept this law, and we won’t go back to work unless the government annuls it,” one female worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t want to give any of our land away to China, not even for one day,” she said.
Tensions have grown between Vietnam and China in recent years following clashes over fishing rights in the South China Sea, called the East Sea by Vietnam, and China’s takeover of island groups claimed by both countries
Vietnamese police routinely break up anti-China protests marking the anniversaries of the takeovers of the Spratly and Paracel islands and detain demonstrators.
In a surprise move on Monday, Vietnam’s national assembly postponed approval of the proposed law on SEZs, according to a June 11 report by Agence France-Presse.
In a statement Monday, national assembly chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan called on protesters to remain calm and trust in decisions made by Vietnam’s government and ruling Communist Party, sources in Vietnam said.
“Regrettably, the substance of this issue has not been appropriately understood by the people, and misunderstanding has led to extreme acts.”
“It is not impossible that the people’s patriotic feelings are being used to create [harmful] impacts to the social order,” Nguyen said.