Vietnam floods kill 12, capital Hanoi under water

People make their way through a flooded street in downtown Hanoi

People make their way through a flooded street in downtown Hanoi

HANOI (AFP) — Floods have killed at least 12 people in central Vietnam, emergency services said Friday, as heavy rains lashed the capital Hanoi and left many streets under one metre (three feet) of water.

Worst-hit central Ha Tinh province — where muddy waters inundated dozens of homes and hundreds of hectares of rice and other crops — reported seven deaths, said the National Flood and Storm Prevention Committee.

“A 48-year-old man was swept away after feeding his buffalo and a 19-year-old man was killed on the way to husk rice,” said the committee’s online report, adding that three of the victims were children.

More deaths were reported from Nghe An, Quang Ngai and Quang Nam provinces.

A week of heavy rains has swollen rivers and triggered flash floods and landslides in the region, where downpours continued Friday.

In northern Vietnam, the capital Hanoi was also hit by heavy rains that turned streets into rivers and caused traffic chaos, leaving many people stranded as flood waters soaked their motorcycle engines.

Vietnam gets lashed by typhoons, tropical storms and heavy rains every year. According to government figures, floods and landslides in Vietnam last year left 435 people dead and missing.

5 killed in Vietnam floods

HANOI – AT LEAST five people have been killed in floods triggered by heavy rains in central Vietnam, emergency services said on Wednesday.

The dead included two children who were swept away when they tried to cross swollen rivers on their way home from school.

Three deaths were reported from Ha Tinh province and one each in Nghe An and Quang Nam provinces, the National Flood and Storm Prevention Committee said.

Dozens of homes have had their roofs blown off, hundreds of hectares of crops are damaged, and landslides have cut roads to two Quang Ngai mountain districts, reported the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

Vietnam’s central region, which suffers a series of typhoons and storms every year, has again been hit by heavy rains since Friday. Rivers were still swollen on Wednesday although the rains had eased, officials said.

Last year, Vietnam was hit by seven major tropical storms or typhoons which triggered floods and landslides that left 435 people dead and missing, the government’s General Statistics Office said. — AFP

Crackdown in Hanoi


Register Correspondent

Posted 10/28/08 at 9:55 AM

SINGAPORE — Vietnam’s communist authorities have upped the ante in an ongoing dispute with the Catholic Church. Now, they’re calling for the removal of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi.

According to the state-run Vietnam News Agency, Nguyen The Thao, chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee, told foreign diplomats Oct. 15 that “a number of priests, led by Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet, took advantage of parishioners’ beliefs and their own low awareness of the law to instigate unrest.”

The unrest he must have been referring to is prayer.

Since late 2007, the archbishop has led prayer vigils across the city, as Vietnam’s 6 million Catholics had been protesting the government’s moves to turn the former apostolic nunciature in Hanoi into a public park.

Last month, however, the government’s reaction to the vigils turned violent, with riot police, stun guns and tear gas used against the gatherings.

Father Peter Khai Van Nguyen is a Redemptorist at the Thai Ha Church in Hanoi, site of one of the vigils and also a location for government-confiscated Church land.

He said that “eight months after promising to restore Church ownership of a building that once housed the office of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi, Vietnamese authorities suddenly begun demolishing the building, provoking the outrage of Catholic protestors and drawing a heated protest from the city’s archbishop.”

Carl Thayer is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and is a longtime watcher of Hanoi’s politics. “This land dispute has escalated and turned nasty,” he said. “The state media have vilified and defamed key Catholic leaders. Officials have organized gangs of revolutionary youth and military veterans to attack Catholics holding peaceful prayer vigils and to deface religious statues.”

Secular non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, which is at odds with Catholic teaching on abortion, have spoken out about the actions of the communist authorities in Hanoi. In a statement released Oct. 4, Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director in Asia, said, “This is the harshest crackdown on Catholics in Vietnam in decades.”

Relations between the Church and Vietnam are similar to those in China, where the government, not the Church, determines state-run church appointments. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the Vatican in early 2007.

The latest persecution of the Church comes soon after Vietnam won plaudits for its relaxation of restrictions on religious expression, presaging the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Hanoi then won a U.N. Security Council seat earlier this year, and it teamed up with China and Russia to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Robert Mugabe’s brutal crackdown on the Zimbabwean opposition after elections were held in the African country in spring 2008.

Nina Shea is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan body set up in 1998 to “monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and related international instruments and to give independent policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and the Congress.”

She said that “a clear example of how trade trumped concern for religious freedom occurred in 2006 on the eve of President Bush’s visit to Vietnam for an economic summit, when the State Department removed Vietnam from its short list of the world’s worst religious persecutors.”

That move has more to do with diplomatic and economic exigencies as U.S.-Vietnam trade expands than real progress on religious freedom.

And Catholics are not the only religious group under pressure. According to Shea, “Religious organizations that resist government control of their leaders, religious texts, activities and rites are banned and experience harsh oppression.”

The presence of the autonomous Church is likely seen by the Communist Party as an intolerable challenge to state authority at a time of economic weakness. Vietnam’s rulers have taken a path somewhat akin to China, coupling selective free-market reforms with continued political authoritarianism.

“Party conservatives are invariably concerned about reforming too fast and provoking political instability,” Thayer said. “Now that inflation has risen and social problems have arisen, such as record strikes in the garment and textile industries, party conservatives are once again voicing concerns about political stability. Any activism that is pro-democracy or related to religious freedom is viewed as ‘part of the plot by hostile external forces to overthrow the socialist regime.’”

In early October, the Communist Party Central Committee held a summit meeting to discuss the growing economic crisis and gave the party’s Politburo oversight of the economy until the end of this year, taking policy out of the hands of the Dung government.

Protestant missionaries in Vietnam’s north have also worried the Politburo, with conversions evoking the drift to Catholicism promoted by French missionaries in the 1800s, which undermined the then-Confucian elite in the mainly-Buddhist country.

Some Buddhist movements have also been targets of the government’s ire. Arrests of religious leaders continue, and in its most recent report on Vietnam, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom outlined its view “that in all of the most recent cases of arrest, imprisonment and other detention, religious leaders and religious freedom advocates had engaged in actions protected by international human rights instruments.”

And Vietnam is playing hardball not just with the Church. A prominent journalist was jailed for his role in exposing a multimillion dollar corruption scandal in which aid money donated from the World Bank and the European Union, among others, was used by senior and middle-ranking transport officials to bet on soccer matches in England.

Nguyen Viet Chien, a reporter with the daily newspaper Thanh Nien, was sentenced to two years in jail for exposing the scandal, work which the courts declared to be an “abuse of democratic freedoms.”

Other reporters, apparently eager to appease the government after Chien’s incarceration, have begun concocting stories that a majority of Vietnam’s Catholics are at odds with those attending the prayer vigils, even as support gatherings spring up at Catholic churches elsewhere in Vietnam.

Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, in a pastoral letter sent to all Catholic priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Saigon, described the state-run media coverage of the vigils as “serving the privileges of the powerful, and of parties, not the common good of the nation.”

Long Le teaches Vietnamese studies at the University of Houston. He outlined the government’s approach to freedom of religion.

“Vietnam promotes the country’s religious traditions to draw foreign travelers to Vietnam’s cathedrals, temples and pagodas, while religious groups are still being persecuted,” he said.

Cardinal Pham Minh Man said in a statement: “There has been distorted or truncated information as in the land dispute at the former apostolic nunciature. Coming from our desire to actively contribute to the country’s stable and sustainable development, we would like to share these thoughts with our fellow Christians and all people of good will and sincere hearts.

“We firmly believe that when we together work to build the country on the basis of justice, truth and love, Vietnam our country will become more prosperous, bring happiness and wealth to everyone and construct a better world.”

Simon Roughneen is based in

Papua, New Guinea.

Vietnam inflation slows, foreign investment surges

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam’s inflation rate eased to 26.7 percent in October as global oil and commodity prices fell but remains one of the highest in Asia, according to government figures released Tuesday.

Despite high inflation, Vietnam continues to attract record foreign direct investment commitments as investors believe the country’s long-term growth prospects are sound. Pledged foreign direct investment from January to October totals $58.3 billion, up nearly six times from the same period of last year, the General Statistics Office said.

The consumer price index has now fallen for two consecutive months after reaching a 17-year high of 28.3 percent in August, the statistics office said in a statement. Vietnam usually releases economic data before the end of the reporting period based on estimates.

The government has cut fuel prices several times since August following a steep fall in the global price of crude oil. The consumer price index fell 0.2 percent from September.

Vietnam’s economy has grown rapidly over the last decade, powered by an influx of foreign capital, but began overheating last year. The economy grew 8.5 percent last year but slowed to 6.5 percent in the first nine months of this year, hit by government efforts to tame rampant inflation and a swelling trade deficit.

Food prices in September surged 40.6 percent from a year earlier and the cost of housing and construction materials jumped 22.8 percent.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said earlier this month that the government expects inflation for 2008 to be 24 percent.

As of Oct. 22, some 953 new projects have been licensed this year, the GSO said.

Malaysia topped the list of investments by country, with investment commitments totaling $14.9 billion so far this year. The bulk that figure comes from a $9.79-billion steel mill project licensed in September.

Taiwan came second with $8.6 billion of investment commitments, followed by Japan with $7.3 billion.

Vietnam faces poverty threat

The United Nations has warned that double-digit inflation and shocks from the global financial turmoil are threatening to plunge Vietnamese households living on the margins, back into dire poverty.

UN resident coordinator, John Hendra, says many groups remain vulnerable to food shortages, especially landless farmers, the urban poor and ethnic minority groups..

He says global commodity and energy prices have dropped back from their peaks this year, but Vietnam’s inflation, still stood at almost 27 per cent this month.

He says the global financial crisis will likely impact Vietnam’s export-driven economy on top of the soaring consumer prices.

Vietnam faces poverty threat

Vietnam inflation slows but economists still worried

Hanoi – Vietnam’s once-sizzling inflation rate slowed for the second straight month in October, but Vietnamese economists said Monday the government should not yet declare victory. “I am not reassured by the low inflation figure from October, because it doesn’t prove that the government’s tight monetary policy has succeeded,” said Tran Duc Nguyen, an economist and informal government adviser.

Vietnam’s consumer price index fell 0.2 per cent in October after rising 0.2 per cent in September. The figures bolstered a trend that has seen inflation fall since hitting a month-on-month high of 3.9 percent in May.

Overall, prices have risen 26.7 per cent since last October.

And economists said the slowing inflation might not be due to the government’s tight credit policies in recent months, but to lucky external factors.

“The government’s tightened credit policy has only brought partial, preliminary success,” said Vo Tri Thanh, a senior official at the Central Institute for Economic Management. “Vietnam had good luck in October, as world prices have been falling quite fast.”

Experts said the decreases were largely due to lower world commodity and energy prices and domestic fuel price cuts, as well as tightened credit by Vietnamese banks.

Thanh said Vietnam’s macroeconomy faces a variety of risks, and stabilizing it should remain the government’s top priority. Year-on-year inflation remains high, inflationary pressures still exist, bad debts burden many banks, and the country is running a high balance of payment deficit.

“It will take time to overcome the domestic causes of inflation inside Vietnam,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen said the government should tighten credit for state-owned enterprises, but loosen it to the more efficient private sector, but he acknowledged that would be politically difficult.

Consumers continue to feel the pinch of high annual inflation. The Government Statistical Office said Saturday that year-on-year food prices were up 40.6 per cent in October, though down by 0.4 per cent against September.

Prices for housing and construction materials increased 22.8 per cent year-on-year while declining 1.1 per cent month on month.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week told the National Assembly that the annual inflation rate for 2008 would be 24 percent, and said the government aims to bring it below 15 percent next year.

Vietnam inflation slows but economists still worried : Business

Analysts hail China, Vietnam deal

A new deal between Vietnam and China to resolve land and sea borders has been hailed as a major step forward.

Analysts say the deal will help avert fresh conflict between the two sides.

The two powers agreed in Beijing over the weekend to finish demarcating their land border this year, and to solve a maritime territorial dispute.

China and Vietnam have a tense relationship. Most recent disputes centre on the right to exploit oil and gas resources.

Border progress

The weekend deal was signed in Beijing by the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

“The China-Vietnam joint declaration of October 2008 represents a very positive continuation of the process of confidence-building measures that has been under way for nearly a decade,” said Dr Carlyle Thayer, visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

“It highlights areas for future co-operation and significantly sets up a hot line so the two sides can deal promptly with incidents, such as armed clashes, that arise from time to time,” he told the BBC.

He said the agreement to finish the physical laying of boundary markers along the once-disputed 1,350 km (840 mile) land border was particularly important.

The agreement also offers a plan to demarcate the Gulf of Tonkin, establish a common fisheries area and conduct joint naval patrols from time to time.

The statement did not settle the issue of the Spratly Islands, a strategic string of rocky outcrops in the middle of the South China Sea claimed by several nations.

But China and Vietnam promised to “collaborate on oceanic research, environmental protection, meteorological and hydrological forecasts, oil exploration and information exchanges by the two armed forces,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

This builds on the resolution earlier this year of a potential conflict provoked by Vietnam’s publishing of a Maritime Strategy for the exploitation of maritime resources.

Past disputes

China and Vietnam have an uneasy relationship.

China supported the Vietnamese Communists during the Vietnam War, but Vietnam is wary of its huge northern neighbour and, after a brief but bloody 1979 border war, lost 70 men in a brief naval battle in 1988.

The two neighbours normalised relations in 1991.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Analysts hail China, Vietnam deal