Police probe Samsung factory riot in northern Vietnam

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Workers at the construction site of the US$3.2-billion Samsung hi-tech complex in Thai Nguyen Province's Yen Binh Industrial Zone burning containers, which were being used as guardrooms, during a brawl with the guards Thursday. Photo by Nam Anh

Police in the northern province of Thai Nguyen launched an official investigation Thursday into the fracas that broke out between security guards and workers at the construction site of a multi-billion dollar Samsung complex earlier that day.

A senior officer with Thai Nguyen police department said his agency will probe for evidence under the charges of "causing public disorder" and "destroying property."

The incident occurred at around 7 a.m. at the Yen Binh Industrial Zone in Pho Yen District, where the Samsung's US$3.2-billion hi-tech complex, reportedly the South Korean electronics giant's largest mobile phone factory in the world, started construction last March.


Witnesses said a construction worker was stopped by a group of guards from bringing his meal into the site. The guards then stomped on his meal and threatened to assault him.

Another worker intervened, and he too had a quarrel with the guards, the latter reportedly beating him with a club, causing the former to lose consciousness.

Enraged, many other workers attacked the guards with rocks and sticks, burning down three containers, which were being used as guardrooms, and 22 of the guards' motorbikes. 

But a report sent by Thai Nguyen People's Committee to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung Friday said some workers showed up late to work and insisted on entering the site, but the guards stopped them in accordance with regulations, provoking a quarrel that led to what became an all-out melee with some thousand participants. 

When hundreds of police officers arrived to suppress the fight, many workers threw rocks at them.

The disturbance was finally broken up at around 11 a.m.

Thirteen people, including 11 guards and two police officers, were injured and treated at Military Hospital No. 91.

Chairman of Thai Nguyen People's Committee Duong Ngoc Long held a meeting the same day with local authorities, representatives of the guards' firm, Samsung Electronics Vietnam, and contractors, to discuss how to resolve the situation.

Long ordered police to continue keep an eye on the site to prevent recurring outbreaks of violence, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Longstanding conflicts

Several workers told Thanh Nien that they often bring meals into the construction site (which lacks a canteen), and do not want to eat meals on the street where there is a lot of dust and smoke.

But the guards stopped allowing the practice for the two days leading up to the brawl.

They said that under normal circumstances, the guards behave "very imperiously," often scolding them and grabbing their shirts to pull them back if they happened to go through the site's gate wearing their ID cards improperly.

They said most of the workers were afraid of being sacked for making waves, so they endured the maltreatment. The situation Thursday morning, however, was apparently the final straw.

Nguyen Van Tuan, a drink seller near the construction site, told news website VnExpress that he has witnessed guards assaulting workers on a regular basis for a long time. 

Meanwhile, Nguyen Van Tien, an engineer who has been conducting inspections at the site for the last two months, said engineers have not had problems with the guards, since they always comply with the factory regulations of wearing the ID cards.

He said he has witnessed at least five confrontations between guards and workers, and the most common spark to them was guards forcing workers to return to their rented accommodations, located far away from the site, to get ID cards they'd forgotten to bring.

He said the workers had never become aggressive as they did Thursday morning.

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