Mass Protests Sweep Vietnam for the First Time in Decades

“An Arab spring has started to emerge in Vietnam,” said Pham Chi Dung, a former member of the ruling Communist Party, following the largest and most widespread protests in years.

Over the weekend of June 9-10, tens of thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets across the country to protest two bills on cyber security and the creation of new special economic zones, or EEZs. The protest began with the participation of around 50,000 workers from the Pouchen footwear factory in Tan Tao industrial zone in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in the Southeast Asian nation.

Thousands of people gathered in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang and other cities, chanting and carrying banners that read “Say no to bill on EEZs,” “No land lease to China even for one day,” and “Cyber security law means silencing people.”

The protests showed how widespread the dissatisfaction is with systemic corruption, serious large-scale environmental pollution, deep social inequality, and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.

In an article for the unregistered Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Dung said the protests mark “the first time since 1975 [when the communists took over South Vietnam] that an action directly challenged the ruling government had been taken.”

The demonstrations took place the week after the National Assembly, the country’s highest legislative body, publicized its plan to discuss and approve the two bills on June 12-15, as part of its month-long session, which started on May 20.

The call urging people to rally circulated on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Over 60 million Vietnamese people are online, and Facebook — with more than 40 millions users in Vietnam — is the most popular social network in the country.

Vietnam’s security forces responded aggressively to the call for peaceful demonstrations. Authorities sent plainclothes agents and…

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