Radio New Horizon
News Brief #1
Saigon on the Eve of the Olympic Torch Relay
On April 28, 2008, amidst preparations for the highly anticipated arrival of the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay through the streets of Saigon, Vietnamese citizens have become increasing aware of the heighten sense of unease among the city’s public security officials.
Around 9pm, security police swamped the historic Saigon Norte Dame Basilica, the downtown Opera House, and the Bach Dang station in anticipation of large scale protests. When they realized they had been mistaken, security police encircled the Saigon Opera House and the Chinese Consulate. Currently there is a large police presence at each location numbering in the thousands. Cars passing by are being inspected. Police have also cordoned off the major boulevards of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Pham Ngoc Thach, Tran Hung Dao and Le Loi.
Students and youth in Saigon continue to form small groups to follow the deployment of security officials and look for the best locations to gather without prior coordination. Perhaps this is what has worried security officials. They have tried to detain or isolate those believed to be youth leaders. In the last 24 hours, blogger Dong A, college student Le Ngoc Ho Diep, college student Hoang Duc Tuong, among others, have been detained at their local police station.
Police have also prevented democracy activists from across the country from gathering in to Saigon to protest China including writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia and Pham Thi Thanh Nghien in Hai Phong; Nguyen Phuong Anh, Lu Thi Thu Duyen in Hanoi; Trinh Thi Phuong Thuy, wife of imprisoned democracy activist Nguyen Phong, in Hue; and engineer Do Nam Hai in Saigon.
The unease of Vietnamese security officials and discontent among the populace led Beijing to make a concession in the last 24 hours. Olympic organizers modified the torch relay map, which had visibly portrayed the Spratly and Paracel Islands as part of China. The edited maps can be seen at http://torchrelay.beijing2008.cn/en/journey/map/.
While Vietnamese authorities declared that no Chinese paramilitary guards would be escorting the torch, local observers have noted an influx of Chinese-speaking “tourists,” “professionals,” and “workers” on the streets of Saigon in recent weeks. Shockingly, Vietnamese police have used the threat of Chinese security agents to threaten democracy activists. In a recent interrogation of Do Nam Hai, police threatened that “Chinese security forces know the location of your home, they know your appearance, so you better be careful for your personal safety.”
Updated 5am Vietnam, April 29, 2008
Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica