Vietnam capital U-turns on tree felling after public outcry

HANOI (Reuters) - Political leaders of Vietnam’s capital halted the felling of thousands of Hanoi’s trees on Friday after the plan sparked public outrage and fears it would damage the image of one of the world’s most picturesque cities.

Social media criticism went into overdrive this week after authorities started cutting down some 500 of the 6,700 trees it considered dangerous in the leafy metropolis often dubbed the “Paris of Asia”.

The rolling back on the plan was top billing on the lunchtime television news, which announced that upon the instruction of the Hanoi People’s Committee, trees cut down would be replaced immediately.

“Chairman Nguyen The Thao has requested the Construction Department as well district authorities as related agencies to suspend the cutting,” state-run VTV announced.

The abrupt U-turn shows how social media like Facebook, used by about one-quarter of communist Vietnam’s 90 million people, is playing a role in scrutinizing some government decisions in a country tightly controlled by one party for four decades.

Though discussion of politics remains strictly taboo and can sometimes result in arrests and jail, many Vietnamese speak up about social and environmental issues.

With its tree-fringed boulevards, more than two dozen lakes and thousands of French colonial-era buildings, Hanoi is a popular tourist attraction and one of only a few Asian capitals to retain its historic charm amid rapid modernization and population growth.

Reporting by Ho Binh Minh; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jeremy Laurence