Several held as Vietnam breaks up anti-China rally

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnamese authorities broke up a small anti-China protest in Hanoi and detained several people Thursday, activists told AFP, a day after high-level talks over an oil rig in disputed waters ended in deadlock.

Around a dozen activists briefly waved banners and shouted "Chinese oil rig get out of Vietnam!" and "silence is cowardice" - a dig at Hanoi's handling of the dispute - before police forced them to disperse.

Around seven activists were detained by police, according to reports posted on activist blogs. Police did not confirm the detentions.

"It is not good for people to gather here... we need to avoid causing difficulties for the state. The state can protect Vietnam's sovereignty," Do Anh Vinh, 22, a communist youth volunteer helping security forces said.

Relations between the communist neighbours have plummeted to their lowest point for decades since China moved an oil rig into waters Vietnam claims, triggering a standoff with vessels from both sides colliding in contested seas.

The two sides have traded accusations in an increasingly heated territorial dispute, with each side claiming the other has engaged in aggressive behaviour against its ships, including by ramming them.

China's top foreign policy official, State Councillor Yang Jiechi met Vietnam's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi Wednesday but the talks ended in deadlock.

Vietnam's communist leaders have struggled to balance strong domestic opposition to China's unilateral moves in the South China Sea with their traditionally friendly ties with a fellow communist country.

Anti-Chinese riots sparked by Beijing's dispatch of the deep-sea rig claimed three Chinese lives in Vietnam last month, according to Hanoi. Beijing says four Chinese citizens died.

Hanoi has since moved to muzzle public protest as it seeks to reassure nervous foreign investors that the country is a safe place to do business.

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