Seventh major storm to hit Vietnam

The seventh major storm to hit Vietnam this year is battering the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea and is expected to make landfall in southern Vietnam by Saturday.

The weekend storm is expected to bring more rain to the central regions around Danang and Hue, and to Central Highlands provinces, as well as to riverside neighbourhoods of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest urban area.

The storm, codenamed Hagibis, comes after a series of storms and floods have lashed Vietnam this year, leaving more than 400 people dead or missing.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese rescue services have saved all 20 Chinese sailors aboard a freighter after it began taking water off Vietnam while travelling from China to Thailand.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered local officials to work around the clock and take preventive steps ahead of the storm.

Vietnam raises retail fuel prices by nearly 15 percent 

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam hiked fuel prices at the pump by almost 15 percent Thursday, raising fears of worsening inflation, to cope with world oil prices that are nearing 100 dollars per barrel.

The price per litre of petrol rose 1,700 dong (0.11 dollars) to a 13,000-13,300 dong (0.80-0.82 dollars) band under a decision by the finance, and trade and industry ministries, the government said on its official website.

Without the price hike, losses of trading enterprises would have spiralled to 12,000 billion dong (740 million dollars) for the year, Deputy Finance Minister Tran Van Ta was quoted as saying by the VNExpress online newspaper.

“The trading enterprises and the government could not stand (the losses) anymore. Therefore, consumers need to share the burden,” he said.

Fuel trading enterprises in Vietnam were allowed in April to set their own retail prices to better compete and respond to market changes, but the communist government reserved the right to intervene when necessary.

Oil retreated below 98 US dollars in Asian trade Thursday after rising to a new peak of 99.29 dollars per barrel on Wednesday.

Experts in Vietnam worry that the increase in retail oil prices will help raise the consumer price index, which the government wants to keep below the targeted 8.5 percent annual economic growth for 2007.

In October, consumer prices rose 9.34 percent year-on-year, the General Statistics Office said. The increasing cost of living has sparked public anger and criticism in the national assembly.

Vietnam has vast oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea and is a major exporter of crude oil, but the country currently lacks major operating refineries and must import all petroleum products.

Vietnam confirms secret arrest of Thai activist 

Hanoi – Vietnam on Thursday confirmed the “urgent arrest” of a Thai and two foreign pro-democracy activists who had been reported missing in the communist country, but refused to say what law the foreigners are accused of breaking.

Government spokesman Le Dung also refused to speak of a fourth missing activist – reportedly a US citizen – who had been arrested while passing out booklets on democracy

“On November 17, the Vietnamese Public Security Agency conducted an urgent arrest and temporary detainment of three people, Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, French passport holder; Truong Leon, US passport holder; and Khunmi Somsak, Thai passport holder; for their violations of Vietnamese law,” Dung said at a briefing Thursday.

He said he had no information about the fourth activist, Nguyen Quoc Quan, who the pro-democracy group Viet Tan also claims was arrested over the weekend. Viet Tan identifies Quan as a US citizen.

Dung also refused to discuss what crime the activists are accused of committing.

“Now the people were arrested and detained, and their crimes will be defined later after the investigation,” he said.

The detained activists are members of the overseas-Vietnamese group Viet Tan (Reform), which works to end one-party communist rule.

They were arrested while meeting with Vietnamese citizens to discuss “peaceful democratic change” in Vietnam, according to Viet Tan.

Police surrounded the house where the meeting was taking place and then raided the home with more than a dozen officers, seizing materials, Viet Tan said citing a witness to the raid.

Among other things, the activists were passing out copies of a book called From Dictatorship to Democracy in a Vietnamese translation, according to a Viet Tan spokeswoman.

Communist-run Vietnam bans any political opposition and “propaganda against the Socialist Republic” is a crime that carries prison terms of up to 20 years.

In the past year, about a dozen prominent Vietnamese dissidents have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, often accused by authorities of colluding with “hostile forces” based overseas.

The French and US embassies in Hanoi said Tuesday they had not been informed by the Vietnamese government of the arrests but were looking into the matter.

Vietnam has in recent years arrested several US citizens working for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. (dpa)

Vietnam confirms arrests of 3 foreign citizens for violation of law

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Three foreigners have been arrested in Vietnam for violating national laws, an official said Thursday, in an apparent crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the country. U.S. citizen Truong Leon, French citizen Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and Thai national Somsak Khumi were arrested at the weekend, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung told reporters at a regular press briefing. Dung did not say what laws the three broke, saying police were still investigating. On Tuesday, a U.S.-based pro-democracy group said Vietnamese security police had detained six pro-democracy activists, including two U.S. citizens, a French citizen and a Thai national. Police arrested the activists while they were meeting in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, according to Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform, a California-based group that claims to have members around the world and underground in Vietnam. The group said the two Americans and the French citizen were members of Viet Tan. The other three detainees were a Thai and two Vietnamese. The detainees were discussing with other activists how to promote peaceful democratic change before security police arrested them at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Viet Tan. Separately, two Vietnamese lawyers jailed for advocating a multiparty state in Vietnam were scheduled to appear before a court in Hanoi next Tuesday to appeal their sentences, Dung said. After a trial last May, Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to five years in jail and Le Thi Cong Nhan to four years. They were also ordered to serve four years and three years of probation respectively after their release. Vietnam’s ruling communist party does not tolerate challenges to its rule.