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Cablegate: Catholics Protest Gvn Action, Police Seize Land at Thai Ha

VZCZCXRO8095
OO RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #1093/01 2661006
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 221006Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8507
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5137

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001093

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KIRF VM

SUBJECT: CATHOLICS PROTEST GVN ACTION, POLICE SEIZE LAND AT THAI HA
PARISH

REF: HANOI 1086

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The standoff between Catholic parishioners and
the Hanoi city government continued to escalate over the weekend, as
the Hanoi Archbishop led a special mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral
attended by 12,000-15,000 and the state-controlled media continued
to attack the Archbishop. Construction of a public park and library
at the former residence of the Papal Nuncio went forward with the
apparent blessing of PM Dung, while across town, local authorities
raided disputed property near the Thai Ha parish. Meanwhile, the
MFA spokesman denied the beating of the AP Bureau Chief and claimed
that the journalist had broken the law in attempting to photograph
Friday's prayer vigil. END SUMMARY.

ARCHBISHOP HOLDS MASSIVE MASS...
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) Following the events of Friday, September 19 (reftel), the
Archdiocese of Hanoi on Saturday continued its large prayer vigils,
as construction workers continued to tear down buildings surrounding
the former Papal Nuncio's residence and moved forward with the rapid
construction of a public park. Poloff estimated the crowd to be
well over a thousand. Unlike Friday, when it appeared that the city
government was leading the government's efforts to transform the
disputed property, on Saturday, state-controlled media reports
highlighted that Prime Minister Dung's had personally signed off on
plans to turn the property on Nha Chung Street into a public park.

3. (SBU) On Sunday, September 21, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet
conducted a special mass at Hanoi's St. Joseph's Cathedral, attended
by nearly 100 priests and three bishops from outside Hanoi, in which
he pointedly mentioned the persecution of the early Saints in Rome.
Poloff and contacts at the mass estimated that at least 5,000
persons were packed into the Cathedral. Despite heavy rain, some
7,000-10,000 additional parishioners filled the square outside the
Cathedral and surrounding streets. Following the mass, the
Archbishop, bishops, and priests resumed their vigil near the
disputed property, where the Archbishop again read his public letter
to the President and Prime Minister criticizing the government's
actions.

4. (SBU) The vigil continued at the site Monday morning, but in
much smaller numbers, while the Archbishop departed Hanoi to attend
an emergency meeting of the Episcopal Council in Dong Nai.

...AND MEETS CITY OFFICIALS...
------------------------------

5. (SBU) On Saturday, the Archbishop had an acrimonious meeting
with the Chairman Nguyen The Thao People's Committee of Hanoi
regarding the land dispute, according to priests close to the
Archbishop. The Archbishop continued to press city officials to
halt construction of the new public park and to return the land to
the church. City officials asserted that the Catholic Church had no
claim to the land and were adamant that the Archdiocese was breaking
the law in pressing for continued prayer vigils at the site.

...BUT CONTINUES TO BE HARSHLY CRITICIZED
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Press reports following the meeting were overwhelmingly
hard-hitting, with the state-controlled media attempting to
characterize the Archbishop as unpatriotic by seizing on a statement
in which he said the government's actons had made him "ashamed" to
carry a Vietnamese passport when traveling overseas. The next day,
the People's Committee of Hanoi issued a statement accusing the
Archbishop of disturbing public order and undermining national
unity. The statement, signed by Chairman Thao, threatened that if
the Archbishop did not end his "illegal acts," he would be treated
"in accord with the law."

MEANWHILE AT THAI HA PARISH
---------------------------

7. (SBU) Authorities also moved ahead to quell ongoing
demonstrations at Thai Ha parish, the location of Hanoi's other
prominent Catholic land dispute. Late Sunday evening (September
21), priests at Thai Ha reported that security forces and a "citizen
brigade" had raided the property and destroyed the makeshift altar
where parishioners had held vigil since mid August. The priests
informed PolOff that police had driven them off the land and for a
time had surrounded their church. According to the priests, an
elderly Catholic woman looking after the Thai Ha property was
missing and another woman beaten during the raid had required three
stitches. Parishioners gathered at the church on the morning of
September 22 to pray, but police had sealed the street near the
disputed land.


HANOI 00001093 002 OF 002


MFA DENIES POLICE BEAT AP CORRESPONDENT
---------------------------------------

8. (SBU) On September 21, MFA Spokesman Le Dung posted a statement
on the Ministry's web site claiming that "there was no beating" of
the Amcit journalist. The statement, however, asserted that the
journalist had broken Vietnamese law "by deliberately taking
pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed."

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) The MFA's assertion is risible. Video footage, posted now
on YouTube, shows the AP journalist being taken into custody. His
clothes are clean and he is unharmed. Approximately a half hour
later, he is seen and photographed (by DPolCouns, among others),
still in police custody, with a laceration on his head and
blood-soaked clothes. While we did not witness the Amcit being
beaten, it is clear that he was suffered his wounds while in police
custody.

10. (SBU) Developments at the former Nunciate residence and Thai Ha
parish are more complicated, though the government's stance appears
equally intransigent. After weeks of inaction and relative
restraint, the authorities have likely concluded that they can no
longer tolerate large-scale demonstrations and are now moving to
permanently change the facts on the ground.

Michalak

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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