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June 24, 2017

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Vietnam shaken by most severe anti-China unrest in decades

By Cat Barton

HANOI -- Anti-China protesters have set more than a dozen factories on fire in Vietnam in the biggest eruption of rage against Beijing for decades over the deployment of an oil rig in contested waters.

China expressed "serious concerns" after Vietnamese workers went on the rampage Tuesday, looting goods and attacking offices in a rare outburst of public unrest in the authoritarian communist nation.

Riot police were deployed after violence in the southern province of Binh Duong forced several factories to temporarily suspend operations, including a supplier for Nike and Adidas.

Taiwanese and South Korean plants were affected along with Chinese factories.

"Huge fires have engulfed many of the Taiwanese plants. It would be impossible to estimate the losses. The attacks were totally unexpected," a Taiwanese man who fled the unrest told reporters at an airport in northern Taiwan.

Police said they had detained 500 people for looting and arson, as the authorities struggled to cool tensions that have boiled over since Vietnam's communist rulers — who usually tightly control dissent — allowed mass rallies against Beijing at the weekend.

The riots show the "hazards of nationalist fervor unleashed, particularly in repressive institutional environments such as Vietnam," said Professor Jonathan London at City University of Hong Kong.

Nearly 20,000 workers poured onto the streets Tuesday and a hardcore began looting and attacking security guards and factory management before setting fire to at least 15 factories, local authorities said in a statement.

There was a "massive mobilization" of local forces, with riot police brought in as reinforcements, the Binh Duong People's Committee said.

Videos and images posted on dissident blogs showed thousands of workers — many waving the Vietnamese flag — destroying factory gates, smashing windows and damaging offices.

Export-orientated manufacturing is a key pillar of Vietnam's economy, with high-profile firms — from electronics giants such as South Korea's Samsung to U.S. sportswear companies — producing goods there.

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