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Vietnamese Farmers Block Highway to Protest Pollution

FILE - People sing during a rally protesting against a tree-felling plan by the municipal authorities in Hanoi, March 22, 2015.

Hundreds of angry farmers in central Vietnam dumped dead fish and shrimp onto the highway in front of a local government office Tuesday to protest pollution.

In the latest in a series of public environmental protests, the farmers in Cam Ranh town, Khanh Hoa province, protested against sand dredging that pollutes a bay whose marine life they count on to make a living.

Hoang Thi Hong, who lives near the scene, told VOA’s Vietnamese service that the protesters blocked the main artery linking northern and southern Vietnam.

“They took to the street as their aquaculture has been impacted by sand extraction works," Hong said. "The traffic congestion lasted hours.”

The protest came after thousands of people took to the streets across Vietnam to raise concerns about environmental issues.

Hundreds of villagers in central Vietnam last week threw rocks, bricks and firebombs at riot police who were trying to disperse their protest against pollution from a coal-fired power plant.

Earlier, thousands rallied in the capital, Hanoi, to oppose the felling of thousands of trees, forcing the authorities to scrap the plan.

The rare public protests in the tightly controlled nation has led some activists to believe a new wave of civil disobedience, like the one seen in Hong Kong last year, has spread to Vietnam.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai said Vietnamese people were learning from nonviolent movements in other countries.

“With the booming of the Internet, particularly social media, Vietnamese, especially the young, can get access to the news about protests in the world," Dai said. "So if similar things occur in the country, they know they have to do something to protect their interests like people in other nations.”

Dai, who was imprisoned for expressing views critical of the government, added that Vietnam would see other protests this year as the country experiences an economic slowdown and social injustices.

The communist country does not tolerate public dissent and often moves swiftly to break up protests.

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