Vietnam expels U.S. man planning torch protest

Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:30am EDT

By Grant McCool

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam expelled a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin after accusing him of planning anti-Chinese protests at next week’s Olympics torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City, state-run media reported on Friday.

The Voice of Vietnam radio said authorities believed the man wanted “to try to snatch the torch” during the relay on April 29, or protest outside the Chinese consulate, scene of rare nationalistic demonstrations last December over Vietnam’s dispute with China on sovereignty of South China Sea islands.

Overseas groups opposed to Communist Party rule in Vietnam have called for protests at the torch relay over the Spratly islands and Paracel islands, saying Hanoi has not protected Vietnamese sovereignty from its large neighbor.

For its part, the government frequently makes public statements on its claim to the islands, which are rocky outcrops that may be rich in oil and gas. China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines all make claims to the Spratlys.

The torch relay for the Beijing 2008 Olympics has been dogged by anti-China and pro-China protests around the world and has become a security exercise, rather than the intended celebration.

At stops in London and Paris, torch-bearers were knocked by protesters, while in the Canberra leg, scuffles broke out between Tibetan demonstrators and Australian Chinese.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Hanoi confirmed that a man identified as Vuong Hoang Minh, or Henry Vuong Minh, was detained at Ho Chi Minh City airport. She said U.S. consular officials were informed and met him there.

“He was physically in good health,” the spokeswoman said. “Early this morning, Vietnamese officials told consular officials that he had been sent back to the United States.”

She said U.S. officials were not aware of any charges against Minh, believed to be in his early 30s.

The state-run Vietnam News Agency reported that Minh was detained on Wednesday night by security and customs officers.

“Checking his luggage, they found some T-shirts with prints and images and letters, all with content of distorting the Olympic torch relay and inciting sabotage,” the report said.

Also on Friday, the outlawed Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) opposed to one-party rule said in a statement that an activist blogger against Chinese policies had been under arrest in Vietnam since April 19.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who held talks in Hanoi this week over border demarcation and trade ties, said the relay in Vietnam “will be a symbol of the Olympics spirit”.

(Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by David Fox