Tet celebrated with illegal firecracker explosions in northern Vietnam

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Paper covers of firecrackers litter part of a street in Hai Duong Province on the morning of February 11, the second day of the Lunar New Year

The latest Tet, or Lunar New Year holiday, saw firecrackers set off in several districts in the northern province of Hai Duong, and many people were hospitalized in related accidents.

This is happening 18 years after Vietnam banned the production, trade and use of firecrackers on safety concerns. Violations of the ban have been rare in succeeding years.

Hoang Mai Khuong, spokesman for the Hai Duong People's Committee, said Saturday that no firecrackers were set off during the holiday, according to reports from district authorities in the northern province. "We have reported to the central government that no firecrackers were used in the holiday," he said.

But readers from the province sent Thanh Nien photographs that gave the lie to Khuong's statement.

"I was very surprised to hear the bang of firecrackers on Lunar New Year's Eve," said a Hanoi man who wanted to be identified only as D. He was celebrating the holiday in Hai Duong province's Ninh Giang District.

"I walked out into the street and saw some people setting off firecrackers right outside their houses, and it was not done stealthily at all," D. said.

Quoc Chien, a resident of the province's Kim Thanh District, also heard a series of firecracker explosions on the Lunar New Year's Eve. "People used a lot of firecrackers this year. When I walked out on the first day of the Lunar New Year, I saw the paper coverings of firecrackers all over the street and inside people's houses."

Locals at many districts in the province told similar stories.

Early November 2012, the Prime Minister had asked local authorities to prevent the trade and use of firecrackers. He said the heads of city and provincial governments would be held responsible for violations of the firecracker ban.

Nguyen Duy Ken, police chief of Ninh Giang District, admitted that many people had set off firecrackers on the street.

Ken said that before the holidays began, district police had arrested 19 people for storing firecrackers while his counterparts in the province's capital town said they had caught four people with dozens of firecrackers on the last day of the lunar year.

Meanwhile, the Hai Duong General Hospital received at least five people in its emergency ward with injuries from firecracker explosions on Lunar New Year's Eve and the first day of the New Year.

One of them, Nguyen Quang Chinh, 29, had to have all fingers on his left hand amputated. He also had chest injuries from firecracker explosions that caused excessive bleeding in his lungs.

However, Khuong maintained that he had not been informed of any firecracker injury cases.

Firecrackers are legal in China, and this has enabled them to be smuggled into Vietnam, especially during the holiday season. Bursting firecrackers was a long-standing Tet tradition in Vietnam.

"Almost all the firecrackers were brought from China. I saw them in many different places, including downtown areas of the provincial capital," said Pham Ngoc Trien from the border province of Lao Cai.

Trien said firecrackers are brought into the country by every Vietnamese citizen returning from China before the holiday as it is a very profitable thing to do.

Le Van Hung, a porter at the Mong Cai border gate, said prices ranged up to VND900,000 ($43) for a string of firecrackers 1.2 meters long, but this could fetch almost three times as much when sold inside Vietnam.

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