Thousands of demonstrators converged on a Taiwanese steel factory in Vietnam's central province of Ha Tinh on Sunday to press claims over a major toxic spill in April that killed tons of fish and devastated the local economy.
The protest followed the launch last month of some 500 individual lawsuits demanding compensation from Ha Tinh provinces Formosa Plastics Group for a toxic chemical spill that put thousands of fishermen and fish processing workers out of work and drew sharp criticism of Vietnam's government for a slow reaction.
"October 2 is the day parishioners follow the call of the priests in charge to march peacefully, demanding transparency from Formosa, and fair compensation for people, demanding Formosa to stop releasing waste into our Quyen river," a female protester told RFA's Vietnamese service.
"What is Formosa? Why did they have to use hundreds of policemen, hundreds of vehicles, vans, fire fighter trucks and weapons? What did people do?" said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The lawsuits and the protest was organized by a local Roman Catholic diocese, which urged demonstrators to remain peaceful. Social media carried home-made videos showing some clashes between authorities and protestors, who want the stell plant closed and more compensatoin for lost livelihoods.
"I was not surprised but very moved to see most people were peaceful at the protest. Priests told people not to shout or engage in any violence, avoiding any clash with the police. I was very moved to see that in such a situation people still stayed calm and there is no report about damage to the factory," blogger and activist Nguyen Anh Tuan told RFA.
He said the protest against Formosa "is not over yet. It just started."
'What is left behind after the protest is the belief of people in Ha Tinh and Nghe An and they believe that they will win. By being non violent they will win in the end," freelance journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh told RFA.
In August, more than 200 policemen blocked and assaulted some of the 4,000 Catholic parishioners who tried to march to Ky Anh township’s administrative offices to protest government inaction over their losses.
In June, the Formosa Plastics Group steel plant acknowledged it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces.
Vietnam's government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
Formosa Plastics's $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port, and is one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam.
A woman who gave her name only as Phuong, however, said local people want Formosa to pack its bags.
"They want to talk to Formosa directly but nobody came out to talk to the protesters, only policemen lining up in front of Formosa," she told RFA.
"I will continue protests until we get reasonable compensations and Formosa leaves Vietnam. Everybody wants the same thing. As long as Formosa stays here we will continue our fight even if they increase their compensation," said Phuong.
Reported by Mac Lam and Xuan Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Paul Eckert.