Thousands of parishioners from the Roman Catholic diocese of Vinh in central Vietnam took to the streets on Thursday to protest against the Taiwanese steel firm whose local operations polluted the country’s central coastal area and caused the nation’s worst environmental disaster.
The members of Quy Hoa and Phu Yen parishes protested against a Formosa Plastics Group steel plant responsible for a release of toxic chemicals in April that killed tons of marine life and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four provinces.
In June, the company acknowledged it was responsible for the pollution that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate those affected by it.
The 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.
About 3,000 parishioners from a church in Quy Hoa parish marched to the People’s Committee office in Ky Anh township of Ha Tinh province, where the dead fish were first detected, said Nguyen Thanh Lang, head of the parish’s ministry administration.
“Life is too difficult for us,” Lang said. “It has been four months since Formosa caused the pollution and people still have no jobs. [And] our children can’t go to school.”
“We demand our right to a clean ocean and that our children can go back to school,” he said.
At 9:45 a.m. local time, clashes between protesters and police erupted along Highway 1A, though no serious injuries were reported, sources said.
“Formosa paid U.S. $500 million [for the pollution], but the government has not paid the people,” said Nguyen Thi Phan, another protester. “We are looking for money to send our children to school.”
Last month local activists told RFA that families affected by the spill had lost their income and could not afford to pay school tuition.
‘Vietnam doesn’t need Formosa’
About 1,000 parishioners from Phu Yen parish carrying banners protesting against Formosa marched about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from their church to the place where fishing boats were anchored, according to parish priest Dang Huu Nam.
Plainclothes policemen stood by and took photos, but they did not interfere with the protesters, he said.
“We held many banners telling Formosa to leave Vietnam because Vietnam doesn’t need Formosa,” he said.
The protesters also demanded that Formosa be sued and that the compensation the company has already provided to the Vietnamese government be given to the villagers to clean up the polluted ocean waters.
Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country.
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 loss of livelihood following the massive pollution-linked fish kill.
Before that, the marchers tried several times to demand relief from provincial authorities, but the police always stopped them, a protester named Phuong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service last month.
Formosa Plastics’ $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.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.