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Protest in Hanoi over government use of Church property

Hanoi (UCAN): Around 1,000 people staged a peaceful protest in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the night of November 16 as government authorities began construction of a sewage treatment project on former convent land near the Dong Da hospital.

The protesters gathered at Thai Ha church to pray and demand the return of what they said is still Redemptorist-owned property, seized by the communist government in 1959 and yet to be returned.

Redemptorist sources said the streets leading to the site were sealed off and nearby residents were also forced to stay in their homes just before work began. 

They said an estimated 1,000 workers and security personnel had descended on the work site.

The Redemptorists bought the 61,455-square metre area in 1928 and built several convents and other facilities there.

All they were left with after the 1959 seizure was the church and a convent on a 2,700-square metre plot of land. Some of the seized properties were also sold off to private companies and government officials.

They said the government must return the property so it can be used to meet the increasing religious needs of local people.

Earlier in November, parishioners were urged to remain calm following a November 3 attack on the convent by around 100 people, accompanied by security officials and members of the press.

The mob damaged a gate and verbally abused and physically assaulted several priests and lay people, before fleeing, after many people rushing to the scene in response to the church bells ringing out an alarm signal.

“We strongly condemn this violent, rude and organised attack,” said Father Joseph Nguyen Van Phuong, but he urged parishioners to “forgive them (the attackers) and avoid retaliation.” He said the motive behind the attack probably stemmed from an ongoing dispute with the government over property.

He said, “We are determined to fight for Church property in a peaceful way and urge the government to punish the rioters.”

Local state-run media claimed that the attackers were locals who were angry at parish opposition to the sewage treatment project.

On November 7, hundreds of local Catholics marched on the headquarters of the People’s Committee in Quang Trung ward to demand that authorities respect private ownership and return what they say belongs to the Church. 

They said that 97 Church facilities in Hanoi are in still the hands of the government.

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