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Vietnamese police break up protest by dissident Buddhists • Friday November 22, 2002

AP, Nov. 21, 2002

HANOI, Vietnam(AP) – Vietnamese police forced their way into a temple in southern Vietnam and broke up a two-week protest by followers of a dissident Buddhist group, church officials said Tuesday.

During the protest, Vo Van Thanh Liem, a priest, took refuge in a tree behind the Quang Minh Tu Temple to avoid arrest, they said.

The followers of Hoa Hao Buddhism were attempting to resist a government order that they remove the temple’s gate, a U.S.-based support group said.

Hoa Hao Buddhism, which claims more than 1 million members, was officially sanctioned by Vietnam’s Communist government in 1999 after a Communist Party-approved leadership was put in place. The protest was held by a non-approved splinter group that objects to Communist control.

Government officials in Long Dien hamlet in An Giang province ordered the removal of the temple’s gate on Nov. 6, a day after followers at another temple in Kien Thanh hamlet were forced to remove their temple’s sign and religious flag, the California-based Central Council of Administrators of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church said.

When monks and nuns at the Quang Minh Tu Temple resisted, about 200 police surrounded the temple, the council said. They later severed the lock on the gate, entered the temple and surrounded the tree where Liem had taken refuge, it said.

On Monday, police beat a number of followers and handcuffed two church activists, Truong Van Thuc and Nguyen Chau Lang, the council said.

Police and government officials refused to comment on the report.

However, an official of the government-sanctioned Hoa Hao branch confirmed that police had broken up the protest and had escorted Thuc and Lang back to their homes.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied that the men had been formally arrested or that police had beaten some members of the banned group.

He said Liem had ended his 14-day tree protest. No other information was available on Liem’s status.

Vietnam’s Communist government denies restricting religious freedom and holding religious or political prisoners.

But it recognizes only certain sects from six religions – Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Caodaism, Hoa Hao and Islam – which accept Communist control.

Hoa Hao was founded by a traditional medicine doctor in 1939 in An Giang province in southwestern Vietnam. It now claims followers in more than 10 provinces, mostly in the south.

Nine of the 11 members of the sanctioned Hoa Hao sect’s administrative committee are Communist Party members, the council said.

Early last year, the government cracked down on protests by thousands of members of ethnic minorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands over land grievances and restrictions on unauthorized Protestant “house churches.”

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