HANOI May 18 Vietnam flooded major cities with
police to avert anti-China protests on Sunday in the wake of
rare and deadly rioting in industrial parks that deepened a
tense standoff with Beijing over sovereignty in the South China
China has evacuated more than 3,000 nationals following the
attacks on Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses last
week, and Beijing had sent five ships on Sunday to bring more
people home, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Several arrests were made in the capital Hanoi and
commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City within minutes of groups trying
to start protests, according to witnesses, as Vietnam's
communist rulers stuck to their vow to thwart any repeat of last
week's violence in three provinces in the south and centre.
Fury has gripped Vietnam after Chinese state energy firm
CNOOC deployed dozens of ships two weeks ago and towed a $1
billion oil rig to a location 240 kilometres (150 miles) off
Vietnam's coast in an area both counties claim.
It was one of the most assertive moves China has made in
seas believed to be endowed with billions of barrels worth of
Coming just days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited
several Asian allies engaged in territorial disputes with China,
and U.S. official in Washington described China's action as
provocative, and said Beijing's fraught relations with
neighbours could potentially strain ties with the United States.
"Our intention was to protest in support of the government
to chase the oil rig away from Vietnam's territorial waters,"
said Van Cung, 74, a retired army colonel who was attempting to
protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.
Protests of hundreds in Vietnam's cities were allowed to a
week ago, a rare move in a state that usually suppresses them.
However, what started as a peaceful march in two southern
industrialised provinces on Monday spiralled a day later into a
rampage of arson, destruction and looting of Chinese-owned
factories, and Taiwanese businesses mistaken for being Chinese.
Fighting between Vietnamese and Chinese workers broke out in
central Ha Tinh province on Wednesday killing two people and
wounding 140, the government said. China's foreign ministry also
put the casualties at two dead and 100 injured, Xinhua said.
A doctor and an eyewitness, however, said they saw between
13 and 21 dead bodies, mostly Chinese, on the night of the
Sixteen critically injured Chinese nationals were evacuated
from Vietnam early on Sunday aboard a chartered medical flight
arranged by the Chinese government, the foreign ministry said in
a separate statement.
The violence has angered China, which has demanded swift
action against the perpetrators and for Vietnam to do more to
protect Chinese nationals and businesses.
A text message was sent to Vietnamese cellphone users on
Saturday saying Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had
ordered the security forces to prevent illegal acts. A top
police investigator rejected assertions that the authorities
remained aloof when the rioting erupted.
Police and traffic police gathered in small clusters on
street corners in the centres of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on
Sunday, where large numbers of people were milling around in hot
and humid conditions in anticipation of rallies.
Trucks with loudspeakers circled parks and stopped at
intersections telling onlookers to disperse. A handful of people
who tried to start a protest in Ho Chi Minh City were rounded
up and taken away in a van as sirens blared.
"Vietnam may be small, but we are not weak", said a small
sign held up by a man who was ordered by police to disperse.
On Saturday, China's Foreign Ministry advised Chinese
nationals to hold off from traveling to Vietnam and told its
citizens in Vietnam to avoid leaving their premises.
The spat has been the worst breakdown in shaky but important
ties between the two Communist states since a brief but bloody
border war in 1979.
Trade between the two neighbours was worth $50 billion last
year, with China a crucial source of imports for Vietnam.
Diplomatic ties have long been strained and many Vietnamese are
embittered by what they see as a history of Chinese bullying.
The rioters had also targeted Taiwan and Hong Kong
businesses, presumably mistaking them for mainland Chinese. On
Sunday, Singapore issued a statement saying Vietnam's Foreign
Minister Pham Binh Minh had called his Singaporean counterpart
to give assurance that industrial parks for joint ventures
between the two countries would be protected.
Vietnam's authorities have long been uncomfortable with
public protests, even if they are about China, in what is often
seen as fear that demonstrations could harness wider discontent
over land grabs, corruption, an underperforming economy and
Dao Minh Chau, 44, who described himself as "a Vietnamese
who loves his motherland", said he was fully behind the
"We already signed a letter to request the government to
bring China to the international courts," he said.
"We will tell clearly to our government that we behind the
government to protest China's aggressive policy and the
government can rely on us."
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)