Protests in Vietnam over 99-year leases to China firms
AFP – Authorities in Vietnam have detained more than 100 people after protesters pelted government buildings with rocks and Molotov cocktails, injuring dozens of police officers, state media reported Monday.
The rare demonstrations Sunday took place in several parts of the country in response to legislation on three special economic zones that would grant 99-year leases to companies, stoking fears the deals would go to Chinese firms amid tensions over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
One of the biggest turnouts was in the southeast coastal province of Binh Thuan, where hundreds gathered in front of the People’s Committee Headquarters in Phan Thiet on Sunday, lobbing rocks and petrol bombs.
Authorities said 102 people in the city were detained and property was damaged, according to state-controlled VnExpress.
"We are still investigating and classifying those people to handle in accordance with the law," police colonel Nguyen Van Nhieu told the news site.
Nhieu also said that dozens of police officers sustained injuries but there were no deaths, shutting down rumours that had spread on social media.
The figures could not be independently confirmed.
Earlier on Sunday, protesters in Tuy Phong district of the same province confronted police and blocked traffic.
"At first, I saw (the protesters) throw water bottles and fruit for a while. After that, someone brought rocks in to throw at the police," local resident Dung Pham told AFP via telephone.
Public displays of dissent are rare in the one-party state, where a conservative leadership in place since 2016 has taken a more aggressive stance against activists.
But mounting frustration has pushed the government to slow down the legislation’s progress.
Vietnam’s parliament on Monday agreed to delay approval of the draft law on special economic zones to the end of the year, while the chairwoman of the parliament Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan called on people to stay calm and that their opinions "will always be heard".
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told local media last week that the government would seek to reduce the period of the leases, but he did not say by how much.
The demonstrations, which also took aim at a proposed cybersecurity law due in parliament this week, are some of the largest since 2016, when nationwide protests erupted after a steel firm dumped toxic waste that killed tonnes of fish along the central coast.