Pro-democracy protest in front of Vietnamese embassy in US

About 300 Vietnamese-Americans protested in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington Monday against the arrest in Ho Chi Minh City of six political activists, including two US citizens.

Vietnamese police on November 17 arrested the six, including two Vietnamese-American members of the California-based Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, which is banned in the Asian communist one-party state.

The protestors, some who travelled from California and Chicago, carried pro-democracy banners and flags and shouted slogans such as “It’s time for democracy in Vietnam” and “Free the peaceful democracy activists.”

The two arrested Americans — Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from Sacramento, and Leon Truong, a restaurateurfrom Honolulu — were among a group that circulated petitions produced by Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group promoting peaceful political change in Vietnam.

Families of the two met Monday with State Department officials, who “basically reaffirmed that it was a priority of the US government to seek their release,” said Duy Hoang, a US-based leader of Viet Tan.

The officials also said Washington had protested at the highest levels in Vietnam “that you can’t hold people for their peaceful expression of their beliefs,” he said.

Eleven US lawmakers meanwhile wrote to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, saying the arrests “violate the government of Vietnam’s promise to continue to improve its human rights record.”

Also arrested on November 17 were Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, Thai citizen Somsak Khunmi and two Vietnamese nationals.

A small group of the protestors at the Vietnamese embassy later walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the Chinese embassy to defend Vietnam’s claim of sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

China last month set up a county-level Sansha administrative unit on Hainan island, which covers 2.6 million square kilometres (1 million square miles), mostly ocean, including the disputed isles.

The disputes stir strong passions in Vietnam, which remembers a millennium of Chinese rule and fought its last border war with China in 1979.

The two countries fought a brief naval battle in 1988 near one of the Spratly Island reefs, in which more than 50 Vietnamese sailors died.

The two communist-ruled countries normalized relations in 1991.

“Our demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy is not in support of the Vietnamese government but in support of the position of the nation of Vietnam in the claim of sovereignty over the islands,” Duy Hoang said.


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