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By Ho Binh Minh
HANOI May 17 Vietnam vowed on Saturday to
thwart any new outbreak of violence after deadly rioting
devastated crucial manufacturing centres this week in an
outpouring of rage over Chinese oil drilling in a disputed area
of the South China Sea.
Vietnam's lead police investigator defended security forces
widely blamed for failing to curb the unrest and said "illegal
acts" would be not be tolerated, a day ahead of expected
anti-China protests in its major cities.
Hoang Kong Tu told reporters the authorities would "strongly
deploy measures in line with the law" and there would be no
repeat of violence seen on Tuesday and Wednesday, when mobs went
on the rampage in three provinces, targeting industrial parks
crucial to Vietnam's economy and exports.
The violence was triggered by China's positioning of a $1
billion oil rig in a part of the South China Sea claimed by
Hanoi, a move described by the United States as provocative. It
is the worst breakdown in ties between the two Communist
neighbours since a short border war in 1979.
Crowds of thousands massed as rioters turned against Chinese
workers and Chinese-owned businesses, smashing windows, gates
and walls and torching vehicles and factories. Taiwanese-owned
firms were hit hard after being mistaken for being Chinese.
The trouble broke out on Tuesday in the south after
nationalist rage boiled over during protests around the
industrial parks near Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
Hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese were forced to flee the
country by plane or by bus into neighboring Cambodia.
Tu said two Chinese nationals were killed and 140 people
wounded in the unrest.
A doctor at a hospital near one area of clashes said he had
seen 21 dead bodies in central Ha Tinh province and an
eyewitness to the fighting between Chinese and Vietnamese
workers said she had seen at least 13 bodies. There were no
reports of violence on Friday or Saturday.
Vietnam and China share close economic ties, worth $50
billion of trade last year, but diplomatic relations are
strained, with many Vietnamese harbouring deep resentment for
what they see as a history of Chinese aggression.
China's Foreign Ministry on Saturday advised Chinese
nationals to hold off from traveling to Vietnam and told its
citizens in Vietnam to avoid leaving their premises.
China's public security chief urged Vietnam to take tough
measures to stem anti-China violence and punish rioters.
"We are strongly dissatisfied by the Vietnamese side failure
to respond effectively to curb an escalation of the situation,"
state news agency Xinhua quoted Guo Shengkun as telling his
Vietnamese counterpart during a phone conversation on Saturday.
Vietnamese authorities have also been criticised by
affected businesses and workers for their response to the
violence. Witnesses who spoke to Reuters said police arrived too
late, or in insufficient numbers to prevent violence.
Tu insisted that was not the case.
"The police force has taken strong measures so that we have
minimised the damage from what happened," he said. "We are
always proactive, we are not passive, not slow."
Vietnam allowed rallies in its biggest cities a week ago in
a rare move by police, which have reputation for thwarting
demonstrations and arresting protesters, even though the
country's constitution allows freedom of assembly. State media
also reported the rallies extensively.
More protests were expected on Sunday and it was unclear
whether the authorities would allow them.
Dang Quoc Khanh, assistant to Vietnam's Foreign Minister,
said both countries had settled disputes diplomatically in the
past and would seek to do so again.
However, he said Hanoi would protect its sovereignty and
urged China to remove a rig it towed into waters 240 kilometres
(150 miles) off Vietnam's coast two weeks ago.
"It has infringed upon Vietnam's sovereignty and
jurisdiction. Vietnam strongly protests and many times has
demanded China to withdraw the oil rig."
(Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu and Niu Shuping in Beijing;
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Rosalind Russell)