HANOI (AFP) — Thich Huyen Quang, the head of the Vietnamese Buddhist movement that has refused to come under communist government control, died on Saturday aged 87, his supporters said in a statement from Paris.
"Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, 4th Supreme Patriarch of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), passed away today at the Nguyen Thieu monastery," said the International Buddhist Information Bureau.
He died peacefully at his monastery in central Binh Dinh province, where he had returned from hospital Friday at his own request after spending more than a month in intensive care for heart, lung and kidney ailments, the bureau said.
His death was announced by the UBCV's deputy leader Thich Quang Do, the presumed successor, who has like Quang spent decades under house arrest and police surveillance, and who led a morning prayer ceremony for Quang.
The Paris-based bureau, the international communications arm of the UBCV, called Quang "one of Vietnam's most loved and respected spiritual leaders, and also a determined opponent of tyranny in all its forms."
"For his uncompromising determination to stand firm, he paid a high price, spending over half his life in prison, internal exile or under house arrest under a succession of political regimes," the statement said.
Quang, like his deputy Do, had "waged three decades of peaceful opposition to the communist regime, becoming a symbol of the non-violent Buddhist movement for religious freedom and human rights," the group said.
"But he was also a great peacemaker and a man of dialogue, seeking every opportunity towards harmony and the healing of divisions in a Vietnam torn by war and conflicting ideologies."
The UBCV said it planned to hold Quang's funeral at the Nguyen Thieu monastery at 7:00 am on Friday, July 11 -- defying government plans for an official funeral announced in the state-controlled media last week.
Quang's imminent death in recent days sharply raised tensions between the one-party government and UBCV monks and supporters who had travelled to see Quang at the Quy Nhon hospital.
The state-controlled Vietnam News Agency (VNA) on Friday attacked Do and other UBCV figures as "extremist elements disguised as Buddhist monks who have been working to sabotage the Vietnamese state."
The VNA article charged that "a number of extremists are devising a plot to use the serious health condition of a senior Buddhist monk to bring out their illegal organisation called 'Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam'."
It listed UBCV figures Do along with Thich Khong Tanh, Vien Dinh "and their henchmen" as the "extremist elements" working to undermine the government.
The report, which did not mention Quang's decades of dissent, also said that the state-sponsored Buddhist church had discussed "preparations for a solemn Buddhist funeral in case Most Venerable Quang dies."
Paris-based UBCV spokesman Vo Van Ai, in a statement Friday, on the eve of Quang's death, said Do had visited his "leader and lifelong friend, hoping that his prayers, presence and care could help Thich Huyen Quang to recover."
"Yet whilst Thich Quang Do and the UBCV pray for the patriarch's life, Hanoi is already planning for his death, and cynically seeking to draw political capital from it by imposing a state-organised funeral."
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