HANOI Thousands of Vietnamese protested on Sunday at a steel plant run by a unit of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics to demand the unit leave the country and compensate more people after one of the country's biggest environmental disasters, witnesses said.
Protesters in Ha Tinh province vented their anger at Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, which has offered $500 million in damages and admitted that its $10.6 billion steel plant was responsible for massive fish deaths along a 200-km (124-mile) stretch of coastline in April.
The protest started early Sunday and finished around noon, with police in helmets and shields deployed to guard the compound. The police left as the number of protesters, estimated at about 10,000 people, outnumbered them, protestor Tran Viet Hoa said by phone.
Images posted by demonstrators on social media matched the description. There were no injuries or arrests reported.
Some demonstrators climbed a front gate reinforced from inside by fire trucks and other vehicles, but they were not able to get in, Hoa said. Others entered from a back gate and smashed some windows and cameras.
Formosa in Taiwan could not be reached for comment and an official responsible for external relations at its Ha Tinh unit said he was not aware of the situation and would respond later.
Police and the provincial authority, the Ha Tinh's People Committee, could not be reached for comments.
The Vietnamese government has offered favorable conditions to attract foreign investment, with companies such as Samsung Electronics and Intel key drivers of the economy and sources of jobs.
Formosa is one of its biggest investors and protests against the firm took place in Vietnam's biggest cities over several weekends since April. In some cases, police used excessive force to thwart them, rights groups say.
Another witness said people were angry because they encountered resistance from police while trying to peacefully assemble.
"People were irritated because they just want to meet Formosa directly and negotiate," said the witness, who declined to be named.
Demonstrators were demanding Formosa close the steel plant and give more compensation and do a better environmental cleanup. They wanted the government to stop an alternative plan of discharging the waste into a local river instead of into the sea for better monitoring, the witness said.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry in a statement said its representatives in Vietnam had contacted the steel plant, which police had shut down temporarily.
"The representative office has asked Vietnamese authorities to send more police to protect the plant, its employees, and the lives and property of all Taiwanese businessmen in Ha Tinh province," it said.
(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom and Faith Hung in TAIPEI; Editing by Martin Petty and Muralikumar Anantharaman)