Vietnam rejects US rights report

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnamese authorities rejected a US State Department report criticising the communist country for curbing human rights, saying no one had been arrested for their political or religious views.

In a statement released late Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said the annual State Department report was not objective and based on “false and prejudiced information.”

“During the past years, Vietnam has made great achievements in ensuring and developing its citizens’ freedom in all fields, including freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of information, which can be clearly seen through the strong development of means of communication, especially the Internet,” he said.

“Nobody in Vietnam has been arrested for reasons relating to political views or religion, and only those who violate laws are handled in accordance with law.”

The report said last year’s parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair, and that the government was continuing to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and forcing several dissidents to flee the country.

It also said authorities tightened their grip over the press and Internet and limited people’s rights to privacy and basic freedoms of speech, movement and assembly.

Le Dung said the report “still does not give objective observations on the real situation in Vietnam and is based on false and prejudiced information.”

Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, Wednesday credited Vietnam during a Senate committee hearing with making great strides in economic and social reforms.

But he cautioned there were “serious deficiencies” in political and civil freedoms, citing a crackdown late last year that netted prominent Vietnamese dissidents.

Vietnam to hike taxes on imported cars by 10 percent

HANOI (Thomson Financial) – Vietnam will raise taxes on imported cars by 10 percent in a move state media Thursday said was to curb rampant traffic congestion in the communist country.

Import duty on new passenger cars will increase to 70 percent from 60 percent while used autos would be subject to an average 10 percent rise, according to a finance ministry decision.

‘The decision was signed Tuesday and will take effect 15 days after being published in the official gazette,’ finance ministry official Ha Huy Tuan told Agence France-Presse but did not give a date.

Vietnam, a country of 86 million people, is facing challenges from a rapid rise in car ownership which has accompanied the booming economy, with traffic choking the streets of major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam had cut taxes on imported cars three times since January 2007, when the country joined the World Trade Organization, from 90 percent to the current level of 60 percent.

With these decreased duty rates, the country imported 30,330 vehicles last year, nearly twice as many as in 2006, with a total value of 579 million dollars, according to official statistics.