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Buddhist 'phenomenon' ends north-south Vietnam walk

By AFP

June 3, 2024 08:19 PM


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A Buddhist devotee who amassed a huge following in authoritarian Vietnam as he tried to travel the length of the country on foot has "voluntarily stopped walking", authorities said Monday.

Vietnam's communist authorities are often wary of big, spontaneous gatherings that could potentially trigger social unrest.

Thich Minh Tue began his walk from north to south several weeks ago, with Facebookers, TikTokers and YouTubers recording his journey and livestreaming for an audience of hundreds of thousands.

Hundreds of residents and Buddhist followers gathered to greet him in person at every stage of the walk, giving him food and offering him shelter for the night.

State media dubbed him the "Thich Minh Tue phenomenon".

In a statement issued Monday, the Vietnam Government's Committee for Religious Affairs said Thich Minh Tue had "voluntarily stopped walking and begging for alms".

According to the statement, Thich Minh Tue and his followers disrupted traffic in central Hue province as they passed through, and in the last few days one man died and two women were hospitalised due to heat stroke after joining the crowd.

Authorities met with Thich Minh Tue -- whose official name is Le Anh Tu -- to discuss the incidents late Sunday, prompting his agreement to cease walking, the statement added.

The statement follows another in mid-May which said that "hostile forces have used the 'Thich Minh Tue phenomenon' to oppose the religious policies of our Party and State on social networks", state media reported.

Rights groups say Vietnam restricts religious freedoms, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- a US government advisory body mandated by Congress -- has designated Vietnam a "country of particular concern".

In its 2024 annual report, it cites the country's "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom".

Hanoi has rejected the allegations, and the committee for religious affairs said "local governments had always... created conditions for Mr. Le Anh Tu to walk".

With his colourful patchwork robe made from discarded fabric, Thich Minh Tue and his dress has inspired poets, painters and fashion designers in recent weeks.

His alms bowl -- a metal container taken from a rice cooker -- has become a popular social media meme.

Following the end of his journey, reactions were mixed on social media.

One Facebook user, Khuong Saigon, said it was time to "return peace so that he could continue his religious practice alone".

Another, Ngoc Tung, referred to his walks of previous years -- which first began in 2017 -- and questioned why he would suddenly stop voluntarily.

"We the people don't believe this," he said.


AFP


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