Vietnamese woman denouncing China dies after self-immolation

HANOI Fri May 23, 2014 8:38am EDT

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HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese woman carrying banners denouncing China's claim to most of the South China Sea died on Friday after setting herself on fire in front of a landmark in the country's largest city, local government officials said

The 67-year-old woman set herself ablaze at about 6 a.m. in front of the Independence Palace, once the headquarters of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government, in Ho Chi Minh City, Le Truong Hai Hieu, a senior city official, said by telephone.

"She carried banners saying 'Against China in Vietnam's sea' and 'I will bless Vietnam's marine police'," Hieu said.

The self-immolation took place a week after deadly riots in industrial parks led by demonstrators denouncing China's deployment of a $1 billion deepwater rig in waters claimed by Vietnam 240 km (150 miles) off its coast. The foreign ministry said three Chinese nationals died in the unrest.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said this week his government was considering various "defense options" against China, including legal action, to counter the rig's deployment.

The woman's family and local officials said they believed the suicide was inspired by her anger at the Chinese action compounded by personal problems.

"We are aware that this suicide might give rise to copy-cat actions from Vietnamese people in the future," Hieu said. The government, he said, had been examining a variety of solutions to uphold security.

Self-immolations are a tactic periodically used by activists denouncing Chinese rule in Tibet and ethnic Tibetan regions. More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, with most of them dying from their injuries.

(Reporting by Nguyen Phuong Linh; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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