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Police disrupt gathering of disabled Vietnam veterans

DA NANG (UCAN): Officials and police in central Vietnam intervened to stop an annual gathering of more than 260 of veterans of the Vietnam War with disabilities on January 23. 
The former soldiers, who fought for South Vietnam over four decades ago, came from five central provinces with many taking buses and arriving hours after midnight.
The event to celebrate Tet—the Lunar New Year— and to receive gifts, was hosted by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) and volunteers at Hoa Khanh Church in Da Nang City.
As the proceedings began, hundreds of police officers surrounded the building. One ordered the emcee to stop the introductions, switched off an amplifier and forced the organisers to pull down a banner featuring pictures of two soldiers carrying an injured comrade, as well as images of other veterans’ gatherings hosted by the Redemptorists.
Plainclothes officers filmed attendees and asked veterans to show their identity cards. 
“The government seems to disagree with this event, so we should obey (its order),” Father Francis Xavier Nguyen Ngoc Hien, the parish priest, said.
Father Hien said the charitable programme for veterans has been running for years, with himself and other Redemptorists working together to provide them with gifts at this special time of year. He comforted nervous ex-soldiers by promising that he would pull down the banner at the authorities’ request so as not to cause any friction.
Despite the disturbance, the veterans were still given pieces of cake, cartons of milk and two million dong ($672) each before they left.
Priests had planned to spend time interacting with the veterans as many are socially isolated, but they said the state’s intervention made this difficult.
Redemptorist Father Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai, who is in charge of working with veterans from the central provinces, said the incident had tarnished the government’s reputation in the eyes of local people in Da Nang.
He explained that the veterans already live in extreme poverty and have suffered from discrimination and neglect for decades, so treating them badly was unlikely to win Hanoi many new friends.
Father Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh, head of the Redemptorist-run Justice and Peace Office, said the authorities had shown huge disrespect for the elderly soldiers, contrary to Vietnam’s culture of respecting one’s ancestors.
“We have been striving each year to hand them gifts of love and show them some human dignity, which they have been long deprived of,” he said.
He said about 800 veterans from the central provinces have registered with the programme, which was launched by the Redemptorists in 2013.

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