Mass Protests in Vietnam as Citizens Choose Fish over Steel

Thousands of people have gathered in various locations throughout Vietnam to protest pollution that is believed responsible for the death of fish and other marine life over a stretch of coastline spanning more than 200 kilometers.

Protester in Hanoi May 1 2016
Reports of up to 5000 people protesting destruction of the marine environment in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 1 2016. Picture: Viet Tan via Twitter.

Protesters held up signs that read “We love fish” and “We need clean oceans”. Up to 5000 gathered in Hanoi according to one report, but the number has been disputed, and around 2000 in Saigon, while smaller groups held protests at the Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh, and various locations along the coast where marine life has been found washed up dead, and thousands of people have had their livelihood severely effected. Victims include fishermen and fish, shrimp, and clam farmers.

Protesters turned angry in Saigon when police blocked their movement. The crowd began chanting “Return the streets to the people”. In Hanoi, the police cleared traffic to allow the protesters to make a lap of Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city.

Protesters in Saigon, Vietnam May 1 2016
An estimated 2000 people attending a protest against industrial pollution of the marine environment in Saigon May 1 2016. Photo: Viet Tan via Twitter.

Activists called for the protest via social media channels after a slow, inadequate, and confused response to the disaster by the government, who has since apologized for its slow response to what it now acknowledges as a disaster of an unprecedented scale. Citizens were angered when an executive of the Formosa Group who made controversial comments in a television interview Monday. He told the Vietnamese people they had to choose between having a healthy marine environment or enjoying the benefits of industrial development.

On Wednesday, the government denied any proof of a link between the Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh, which is believed to have released toxic waste from an illegal pipeline which extends 1.5 kilometers into the ocean. But citizens have little faith in the regime or its statements. Banners held by protesters today read: “Formosa destroying the environment is a crime,” “Who poisoned the central region’s waters?” and “Formosa out of Vietnam!”

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