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Vietnamese woman self-immolates to protest China

May 23, 2014

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A 67-year-old Vietnamese woman died after setting herself on fire in downtown Ho Chi Minh City on Friday in protest against China’s deployment of an oil rig in waters claimed by Hanoi, state media reported.

The woman self-immolated in front Reunification Palace around 6 a.m., Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

The paper quoted Le Truong Hai Hieu, a top city official, as saying police recovered a plastic container thought to contain fuel, a lighter and seven handwritten banners saying among other things: “Demand unity to smash the Chinese invasion plot” and “Support Vietnamese coast guards and fishermen.”

China’s deployment of the rig on May 1 in the South China Sea triggered fury in Vietnam, which has been feuding with China for years over overlapping claims in the potentially oil and gas-rich seas. Ships Hanoi sent to confront the rigs are now facing off against Chinese vessels protecting it.

Street protests also occurred, but Vietnam’s authoritarian government clamped down on them after they morphed into anti-Chinese riots that left three Chinese national dead and damaged scores of foreign-owned factories.

News of the self-immolation spread quickly on the Internet. Thanh Nien ran a cell phone clip purportedly showing the incident and motor cyclists looking on. The paper said the woman came to the palace by taxi and set herself on fire before guards there could react. By the time they did, her injuries were fatal.

Self-immolations in Vietnam are rare but have been occasionally reported over the years.

In 1963, a Buddhist monk burnt himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. An Associated Press photo of him won a Pulitzer Prize and remains a recognized image today.

Update hourly