Vietnam detains anti-China activists before torch relay

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — Police in Vietnam prevented major anti-Chinese rallies Tuesday with what activists said were scores of detentions ahead of the Ho Chi Minh City leg of the troubled Olympic torch relay.

The US-based pro-democracy group Viet Tan said it had confirmed more than a dozen detainees by name in Hanoi while several activists and bloggers claimed scores more had been taken into custody, including a group of fishermen.

Viet Tan, which is banned in communist Vietnam, said those detained after protesting at China’s human rights record and its claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea were students, teachers, artists and farmers.

Police would not confirm any detentions, but an AFP reporter witnessed one incident at a Hanoi market when two protesters were taken away after unfurling a banner showing the five Olympic rings rendered as handcuffs.

The Beijing Olympic flame was flown into Ho Chi Minh City — formerly known as Saigon — from North Korea late Monday.

The relay was scheduled to start in the southern port city at 6:30 pm amid tight security, with organisers anxious to avoid disruption by pro-Tibet and rights activists that has dogged earlier legs of the global journey.

Some 60 runners will carry the torch from the downtown Opera House along a secret route of some 10 to 13 kilometres (six to eight miles) to the Military Zone 7 Competition Hall stadium near the airport, officials said.

After Vietnam, the Olympic torch will be flown to Hong Kong and Macau, and from there into the Chinese mainland.

Ho Chi Minh City includes Vietnam’s largest ethnic Chinese community, and several youths were seen wearing T-shirts that said “Proud to be Chinese” and bore the Beijing Olympics logo “One World, One Dream, One China.”

While pro-Tibet rallies have dogged the relay in cities including London, Paris and Canberra, Vietnam’s mostly young and nationalist activists are more driven by the country’s own long-simmering dispute with its neighbour.

Beijing and Hanoi are among the claimants to the Spratly and Paracel island chains, in a dispute that late last year triggered a series of street rallies rarely seen in Vietnam, a one-party state.

The governments of Vietnam and China routinely stress their comradely ties, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week promised China’s visiting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to stage a trouble-free torch relay.

The premier warned that “hostile forces” would seek to disrupt the event, using a standard term from the communist lexicon for pro-democracy activists.

In both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, scores of riot police deployed outside Chinese diplomatic missions, where last December’s rallies started.

Police last week detained a blogger, accusing him of tax evasion, and also expelled a Vietnamese-American chemical engineer caught with T-shirts bearing slogans such as “A Gold Medal for Oppression.”

The banned People’s Democratic Party said university students here had also been detained for printing T-shirts that read, “Protest the torch relay” and “China invaded Vietnam’s Spratly and Paracel Islands.”

Vietnam was ruled as a vassal state by China for centuries and repeatedly invaded by successive Chinese dynasties, and most Vietnamese folk heroes are leaders who fought back the northern invaders.

China and Vietnam fought their last border war in 1979, but the leaders in Hanoi and Beijing, two of the world’s five remaining communist regimes, have since normalised relations and become strong economic partners.

29 April 2008

Source: AFP