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Vietnam increases security after anti-China unrest

Vietnamese authorities set up a heavy police presence in major cities to discourage anti-China protests yesterday as Beijing evacuated thousands of its citizens following a dispute over sovereignty in the South China Sea last week.

China has evacuated more than 3,000 nationals after attacks on Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses at industrial parks in its southern neighbour.

Yesterday, China arranged two chartered flights to take nearly 300 people, many of them injured, home to its south-western city of Chengdu, while five ships were on their way to Vietnam to bring out more people, reported Xinhua.

Sixteen critically-injured people were evacuated separately aboard a chartered medical flight in the morning, China's foreign ministry said.

Several arrests were made in capital Hanoi and commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City within minutes of groups trying to start protests, according to witnesses, as Vietnam's rulers stuck to their vow to thwart any repeat of last week's violence in three provinces in the south and centre.

Fury has gripped Vietnam after Chinese state energy firm CNOOC deployed dozens of ships two weeks ago and towed a US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) oil rig to a location 240km off Vietnam's coast in an area that is claimed by both countries.

It was one of the most assertive moves that China has made in seas that are believed to be endowed with billions of barrels worth of oil.

The move came just days after US President Barack Obama visited several Asian allies engaged in territorial disputes with China.

The US described China's action as provocative and said Beijing's fraught relations with neighbours could potentially strain ties with the US.

Protests of hundreds in Vietnam's cities were allowed a week ago, a rare move in a state that usually suppresses them.

However, what started as a peaceful march in two southern industrialised provinces last Monday spiralled a day later into a rampage of arson, destruction and looting of Chinese-owned factories and Taiwanese businesses mistaken for being Chinese.

CLASH

Fighting between Vietnamese and Chinese workers broke out in central Ha Tinh province last Wednesday, killing two people and wounding 140, the government said.

China's foreign ministry put the casualties at two dead and 100 injured, Xinhua reported.

A doctor and a witness, however, said they saw between 13 and 21 dead bodies, mostly Chinese, on the night of the unrest.

Said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman yesterday: "The severe violence targeting foreign companies in Vietnam since May 13 has caused casualties and property losses for Chinese nationals.

"This has destroyed the atmosphere and conditions for bilateral communication and cooperation." - Reuters.