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9 detained in Vietnam over bird flu fracas

world Updated: Feb 09, 2009 16:03 IST

AP
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Vietnamese police detained nine people suspected of having led a mob of villagers who prevented authorities last week from destroying chickens to stop the spread of bird flu, authorities said today.

The nine villagers were detained on Saturday in Thuong Tin district just outside Hanoi where the brawl occurred on Thursday, said Nguyen Van Phuong, the district police chief. They could face charges of "openly appropriating property," he said, an offense that carries up to three years in prison.

Police in Vietnam can hold suspects up to nine days without charges.

Dozens of villagers in Thuong Tin overwhelmed police and health authorities Thursday and stopped them from destroying about 1,500 chickens smuggled in from China, officials said.

As authorities removed the poultry from a truck to burn them in a pit, the villagers _ desperate for the income the birds could provide _ grabbed the chickens and ran off, they said. Vietnam has reported two human bird flu cases so far this year. Bird flu has killed 52 people in the country, including five last year, since it began raging through Asian poultry stocks in late 2003.

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 254 people worldwide since 2003, most through contact with sick birds. Scientists are monitoring the virus because of its potential to mutate into a new human influenza virus, which could infect millions.