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Vietnamese monk kills himself to call for religious freedom

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) A Buddhist monk who died after setting himself on fire on Christmas Eve in the United States sacrificed his life to demand religious freedom in his native Vietnam, a Paris-based Buddhist support organization said.

Thich Chan Hy, 74, started the fire at 5 a.m. on Dec. 24 at an altar outside the Lien Hoa Pagoda in Charlotte, N.C. Hy did not disclose his plan to anyone and left a note explaining his act as a plea that ''all Vietnamese may enjoy freedom of religion and belief.''

He added, ''I wish that all Vietnamese will be entitled to human rights and democracy,'' according to a statement from the International Buddhist Information Bureau in France.

''I feel so helpless and inadequate,'' the letter said. ''I therefore make the offering of my body, and pray that my appeal will be heard.''

Hy, whose secular name was Le Ve, left communist Vietnam in 1991 after spending several years in a re-education camp there. A veteran of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese army, Hy joined the Lien Hoa Pagoda in 1994.

Self-immolation was used as a form of protest during the Vietnam War, when a well-known image was captured of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in what was then Saigon.

Vietnamese officials in Hanoi did not immediately comment.

The government maintains that it only punishes lawbreakers and does not restrict religious freedom. However, only a handful of state-sponsored religions are recognized and permitted to function.



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