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Vietnam Activists Protest Disruption of Ceremony Marking South China Sea Battle

Activists are criticizing the Vietnamese government for disrupting their ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of a bloody naval battle in the South China Sea.

Dozens of anti-China activists were quickly dispersed Sunday when they gathered in Hanoi. In video posted to social networks, some protesters are heard shouting slogans against China. But their voices are drowned out by warnings from the loudspeakers of security officials.

According to Nguyen Xuan Dien, a Vietnamese expert on Chinese culture who attended the event, there were twice as many security forces as protesters present.

"It is outrageous that they did it. We just wanted to burn incense and to lay flowers to pay respects to those who died in the battle, and then we planned to disperse peacefully. We strongly opposed the clumsy and stupid action by the local authorities."

The sea battle with China over the Paracel Islands in January 1974 claimed the lives of 74 sailors from the then U.S.-backed South Vietnamese navy.

A student who joined the observance Sunday, Le Duc Hien, alleged he was taken to a police station where he was beaten and had his personal items confiscated.

"We did not do anything that is in contradiction with the law and the constitution. We did not do anything wrong. We just wanted to honor those who sacrificed their lives for the country. The government should have praised our action."

VOA's Vietnamese Service contacted that police station, but a representative declined to comment on the allegation.

Vietnam has not officially recognized those who died in the 1974 battle because they fought for South Vietnam, which later lost its war with North Vietnam.

But the country's state-owned press recently published stories relating to the historic battle prior to the anniversary, even though it did not mention the ceremony held by activists.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.)

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