Vietnamese rally outside Taiwanese steel plant that spread toxic waste

Channel NewsAsia 2 Oct 16;

HANOI: Thousands of Vietnamese protested on Sunday at a steel plant run by a unit of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics to demand the unit leave the country and compensate more people after one of the country's biggest environmental disasters, witnesses said.

Protesters in Ha Tinh province vented their anger at Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, which has offered US$500 million in damages and admitted that its US$10.6 billion steel plant was responsible for massive fish deaths along a 200-km (124-mile) stretch of coastline in April.

The protest started early Sunday and finished around noon, with police in helmets and shields deployed to guard the compound. The police left as the number of protesters, estimated at about 10,000 people, outnumbered them, protestor Tran Viet Hoa said by phone.

Images posted by demonstrators on social media matched the description. There were no injuries or arrests reported.

Some demonstrators climbed a front gate reinforced from inside by fire trucks and other vehicles, but they were not able to get in, Hoa said. Others entered from a back gate and smashed some windows and cameras.

Formosa in Taiwan could not be reached for comment and an official responsible for external relations at its Ha Tinh unit said he was not aware of the situation and would respond later.

Police and the provincial authority, the Ha Tinh's People Committee, could not be reached for comments.

The Vietnamese government has offered favourable conditions to attract foreign investment, with companies such as Samsung Electronics and Intel key drivers of the economy and sources of jobs.

Formosa is one of its biggest investors and protests against the firm took place in Vietnam's biggest cities over several weekends since April. In some cases, police used excessive force to thwart them, rights groups say.

Another witness said people were angry because they encountered resistance from police while trying to peacefully assemble.

"People were irritated because they just want to meet Formosa directly and negotiate," said the witness, who declined to be named.

Demonstrators were demanding Formosa close the steel plant and give more compensation and do a better environmental cleanup. They wanted the government to stop an alternative plan of discharging the waste into a local river instead of into the sea for better monitoring, the witness said.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry in a statement said its representatives in Vietnam had contacted the steel plant, which police had shut down temporarily.

"The representative office has asked Vietnamese authorities to send more police to protect the plant, its employees, and the lives and property of all Taiwanese businessmen in Ha Tinh province," it said.

(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom and Faith Hung in TAIPEI; Editing by Martin Petty and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

- Reuters


Thousands protest steel plant over Vietnam fish deaths
AFP Yahoo News 2 Oct 16;

Hanoi (AFP) - Thousands of Vietnamese protesters surrounded a Taiwanese steel plant Sunday, some scaling walls and holding signs demanding its closure, as anger flares against the firm for dumping toxic waste into the ocean killing tonnes of fish.

Huge crowds on motorbike and foot gathered at the Formosa plant in central Ha Tinh province, with some holding signs saying: "Authorities, please close Formosa plant for the future of the nation" as others chanted angrily.

Dead fish and other marine life began washing ashore in central Vietnam in April, the country's worst ecological disaster in decades that devastated livelihoods in coastal towns where fishing is the main source of income.

Taiwan's Formosa, which is building a multi-billion dollar steel plant in the area, was blamed for the disaster and fined $500 million.

The government said it would start paying affected fishermen in October and confirmed last week that payouts would range from $130 to $1,600 per person depending on losses calculated between April and September.

Sunday's demonstrators demanded additional compensation.

"The protestors, who were directly hit by the Formosa scandal, asked for compensation and required the plant to close," witness Hoang Sy Son told AFP.

Photos and video on social media showed protesters, led by a Catholic priest, surrounding the steel plant in Ky Anh township and chanting bible passages.

"A lot of security people and vehicles were deployed here, but no clashes were seen," Son added, speaking from the rally.

AFP could not reach authorities for comment Sunday.

The rallies came days after fishermen in the area filed more than 500 lawsuits demanding additional compensation from the government over the disaster.

Demonstrators have held rare protests in several cities across the authoritarian country after the mass fish deaths, with police breaking up some rallies and jailing scores.

Protesters blamed officials for dragging their feet on investigations into the scandal.

Formosa is no stranger to controversy in Vietnam. In 2014, three people were killed when anti-China riots took place at the same Ha Tinh steel plant, where a scaffolding collapse also killed 14 last year.

The conglomerate has paid millions of dollars in fines over environmental mishaps elsewhere.

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