Vietnam: massive protests as state demolishes nunciature, besieges Church buildings

  Thousands of Catholics demonstrated in Hanoi yesterday, after the authorities began to demolish the Apostolic Nunciature and lay siege to several more church buildings. In what was the largest protest since the Communist takeover in 1954, Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of Lang Son and hundreds of priests led a march of more than ten thousand through the city to the nunciature where they set up an altar and statue of Our Lady in the street. The site has been surrounded by rolls of barbed wire and a police cordon with dogs. Inside hundreds of men worked round the clock to pull down the building and construct a library and a park while protesters sang hymns and prayed outside. At 9am local time on Saturday, the Hanoi archbishop's residence, St Joseph Major Seminary, and the convent of Sisters of Adorers of the Holy Cross were surrounded by Vietnamese police, militia and security personnel with dogs. Fr Joseph Nguyen said: "We could not even talk to the Archbishop or his staff by phone. Police vehicles with technology to block mobile signals prevented us from making or receiving calls." The protests continues. A student from Hanoi university said: "I was here last night with at least 5,000 people. I prayed with them until very late. I had just gone home to take a sleep then return here with people. We were very upset with the way this government is handling the issue." Another student said: "Last February, we halted the protests because we trusted them. However, they managed to delay returning the property through various bureaucratic maneuvers. Then, all in a sudden, they announced this demolition... How can we still trust them?" On Friday, an Associated Press reporter covering the protest was beaten by police after being arrested. Ben Stocking, the AP Hanoi bureau chief was released from police custody after about two and a half hours and required four stitches to the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police. "They told me I was taking pictures in a place that I was not allowed to be taking pictures. But it was news, and I went in," Stocking said by telephone from Hanoi. Hanoi Cathedral bells are ringing every so often to call for help from the faithful.

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