Catholics in Vietnam's central province of Nghe An march in support of fellow believers arrested last week
HANOI — Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholics have marched in support of fellow believers arrested last week after a violent dispute at the site of a church bombed during the Vietnam War, a priest said Monday.
More than 500 Catholics took to the streets of central Dong Hoi city Sunday “to show support for those arrested” in the Tam Toa church dispute, the priest, Pham Dinh Phung, told AFP.
He said seven people remained in custody for investigation after the clash on July 20.
The priest alleged that police beat Catholics who intervened when officers tried to dismantle a temporary building for worship they had just built on the site of the church, which was bombed by US forces during the Vietnam War.
A local government official, Tran Cong Thuat, earlier told AFP the clash occurred between local residents and others who tried “illegally” to build a structure on the site, which is listed as a historic war relic.
Thuat, vice-chairman of the Quang Binh provincial People’s Committee, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Phung said there was a brief scuffle Sunday between the Catholic demonstrators and a much larger group which included police and local residents.
Separately, more than 200,000 Catholics who gathered for Mass at 18 churches in the central region prayed Sunday for “victims” of the Tam Toa case, the priest said.
Catholics say the land belongs to them but the communist state says it is national property. The dispute is the latest in a long-running battle between the church and the government over property.
Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s second-largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with at least six million followers.