Vietnam warns Catholics against mass protests

”]The Head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict the 16th, and Vietnams prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung. [Reuters]Vietnam’s prime minister has warned Roman Catholic leaders the communist state will not tolerate mass protests by followers demanding the return of seized church land.

Prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung criticised Catholic mass gatherings held in two parishes of the capital Hanoi in recent months, in talks with Vietnam Episcopal Council leader Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon.

He told the bishop if those activities do not come to an end, they will have an adverse impact on the good ties between the state and the church and the relationship between Vietnam and the Vatican.

Catholics started their prayer vigils late last year for the return of several properties seized after the communists took power from the French in North Vietnam in 1954.

Police have in recent weeks cracked down on the vigils, arrested several protesters and locked down the disputed Hanoi properties, where the government is building public parks and a library.

Mr Dung thanked Bishop Nhon for not encouraging the protests, but charged that Hanoi Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet had instigated the gatherings and shown a “lack of respect and cooperation with the Hanoi administration.

Vietnam’s death toll from storm rises to 8

Fishermen move a fishing boat to higher ground ahead of tropical storm Mekkhala in central city of Danang, Vietnam Monday, Sept. 29, 2008. The storm lammed into central Vietnam Tuesday, knocking down trees, electricity poles and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in high risk areas, officials said. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency)

Fishermen move a fishing boat to higher ground ahead of tropical storm Mekkhala in central city of Danang, Vietnam Monday, Sept. 29, 2008. The storm lammed into central Vietnam Tuesday, knocking down trees, electricity poles and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in high risk areas, officials said. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The bodies of two children and three fishermen were recovered in central Vietnam, raising the death toll from Tropical Storm Mekkhala to eight with eight others still missing and feared dead, disaster officials said Thursday.

The bodies of the 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy were found Wednesday after they were washed away from their house in Ha Tinh province, disaster official Nguyen Khoa Thanh said. Rescuers also recovered the bodies of three fishermen in Quang Tri and Quang Binh provinces, where four others remained missing after the storm sank their boats, provincial officials said.

Four people remained unaccounted for in Thanh Hoa province, disaster official Do Minh Chinh said.

Mekkhala slammed into Vietnam’s central coast Tuesday morning before moving to Laos later the same day.

The storm, packing winds of 55 mph, destroyed or blew the roofs off of hundreds of houses and sank dozens of boats. It also triggered heavy rains across the region.

Mekkhala hit as northern Vietnam was still recovering from Typhoon Hagupit, which struck last Thursday. Floods triggered by the typhoon killed 41 people and caused an estimated $65 million in damage.

Another tropical storm, Higos, was churning across Vietnamese maritime territory toward China’s Hainan island on Thursday and threatening hundreds of fishermen stuck at sea, said disaster official Nguyen Ngoc Dien of Quang Binh province.

“We are not allowing people to go fishing at the moment,” Dien said.

Higos was not expected to hit the Vietnamese mainland directly.

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai urged the Foreign Ministry to contact countries in the region to allow Vietnamese fishermen in the storm’s path to take shelter, the national committee on floods and storms control said.

Vietnam is prone to floods and storms that kill hundreds of people each year.

Vietnam land dispute: clergy did not violate Church laws

BANGKOK (UCAN) — Vietnam’s bishops have affirmed that local clergy engaged in land disputes with the government in Ha Noi have not violated canon law, after the government petitioned them to deal with those clergy.

Nguyen The Thao, head of the People’s Committee of Ha Noi, petitioned the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference to “deal strictly and according to Church regulations with” Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and Fathers Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, John Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong, Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and Joseph Nguyen Van That, Redemptorist priests stationed at Thai Ha parish.

On Sept. 23, Thao asked the country’s bishops to “transfer” Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to places outside the archdiocese. The government official also accused the five of instigating other clergy and Catholics to violate laws, cause social disorder and hold illegal religious activities.

Earlier on Sept. 21 and 22, Thao issued statements warning Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to “stop immediately their activities against the law.” If not, they would be dealt with according to the law, he threatened.

On Sept. 25 the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district, where the contested former apostolic nunciature is located, fined the archbishop’s house 1,750,000 dong (US$106) for having placed a cross and a Pieta statue in the nunciature compound. The government removed the religious items from the site that same evening.

After taking the cases into consideration, “we see that these clergy have not acted against current Canon Law of the Catholic Church,” the bishops affirmed in their Sept. 25 letter to the Ha Noi People’s Committee.

The letter, issued during the biennial bishops’ conference meeting, was signed by Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat, conference president. The meeting was held Sept. 22-26 at the Xuan Loc bishop’s house in Long Khanh, 1,630 kilometers south of Ha Noi.

The bishops also presented their views on various problems in the country in a two-page statement attached to their letter. They highlighted property laws that do not honor private ownership, corruption, dishonesty in state-run media, and the spread of deceitfulness in many fields, even in education. They also warned about the increasing use of force in resolving land disputes and other problems, which they said will cause more injustice in society.

They suggested laws regarding property should be amended so that people have the right to possess what is theirs, while recognizing their social responsibilities. “That will be the basic premise of fully resolving people’s land and property disputes, and developing the country,” they said.

The Church leaders maintained information on the contested nunciature has been distorted by local media, and they urged communications workers to respect the truth and be highly cautious about reporting news and publishing photos, especially when these relate to the honor and prestige of individuals and communities. “Only when respecting the truth do media really fulfill their function of communication and education so as to build a society of justice, democracy and civilization,” they added.

Noting that Vietnamese people traditionally appreciate mutual affection and harmony, the bishops expressed their desire that all people end violence in their actions and words. People also should not look at the property disputes from a political or criminal standpoint, they said.

“A satisfactory solution would be reached only through frank, open and sincere dialogue, in peace and mutual respect for one another,” they stated.

The bishops also sent their letter and statement to the premier, the president, the government committee for religious affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local Redemptorists. These reportedly were read during Sunday Masses on Sept. 28 at all churches throughout the country, and copies distributed among local Catholics.

Many priests and Catholics from the south told UCA News they appreciated their bishops’ clear and positive views and will continue to pray for the local Church and the government to seek a proper solution to solve these cases in the near future.

Franciscan Father Guy Marie Nguyen Hong Giao, 71, told UCA News on Sept 30 that the bishops offered constructive, positive and practical suggestions. “If the government takes them into serious consideration, they surely will help bring sustainable, stable and quick development for the country.”

Vietnam to try journalists over graft reports

HANOI: Two Vietnam journalists will go on trial after being charged with “abusing freedom and democracy” over their reporting of major corruption in the transport ministry, state media said yesterday.
Journalists Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien from two of Vietnam’s most outspoken and respected newspapers have been held in detention since May over their coverage of the graft, a case which sparked public outrage.
They have now been charged with “abusing freedom and democracy”, an offence that carries a maximum jail term of seven years, said an online report from the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper. The trial could start as early as mid-October.
Two senior police officials will also face court for “deliberately revealing state secrets” to the journalists about the corruption, the Ho Chi Minh City-based newspaper said.
The reporters led coverage of the graft case two and a half years ago in which officials at the ministry’s PMU18 infrastructure unit allegedly embezzled funds and used money to bet on football, raising public anger.
The scandal led to the resignation of transport minister Dao Dinh Binh and the arrest of his deputy, Nguyen Viet Tien, who was cleared in March of the charges against him.
During their investigation, police suspected the money embezzled from the department, which is funded largely by Japan and the World Bank, was to be wagered on international football matches.
Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper said yesterday that the police officials “had revealed news concerning the case to the press, including incorrect investigation results, causing serious consequences”.
The two journalists “added other unreal information… and wrote comments on details not available in the file”, the paper said.
The arrest in May of the campaigning reporters had provoked a strong response in the editorials carried by their papers.
Several senior journalists later had their accreditations revoked for having expressed their support for their arrested colleagues.-AFP