Vietnam Catholics end vigils over disputed land

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese Catholics have ended more than a month of protests in Hanoi aimed at pressing the Communist government for the return of church land seized 50 years ago.

After talks between church and government officials, the protesters removed on Friday a cross and tents from a one hectare (2.5-acre) piece of mostly-vacant land about a block from St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Workers on Saturday were repainting a fence surrounding the site, which once housed the Vatican embassy before the Communists ended French colonial rule in 1954.

Catholics had also gathered in two other places in the capital, demanding return of a presbytery and land that has been used for a textile factory they say also belonged to the church.

The vigils began on December 18 and attracted more than 1,000 people at times, despite Hanoi authorities telling church leaders the activities were illegal and should be stopped.

After meeting with Hanoi’s People’s Committee this week, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet said parishioners had agreed to dismantle the cross and tents while authorities closed a noodle shop on the site near the cathedral.

The church had argued no business should be conducted on the site while it was in dispute.

“This first step is appropriate as now it is very cold and you, brothers and sisters, will need to prepare for Tet,” Kiet said referring to the Lunar New Year holiday in a letter posted on the Web site

Hanoi police are investigating some of the protesters for “destroying state property and causing disorder,” state-owned newspapers reported this week.

Religion remains under state supervision in the mostly Buddhist country and there are about six million Catholics among its 85 million people.

Public displays of criticism or disagreement with the ruling Communist Party are rare, but over the past decade, peasant farmers have also challenged the government over land use.

The Hanoi government is working toward establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the Pope at the Vatican a year ago.


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