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Protests of Vietnam leader expected

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Protests by some of the region’s Vietnamese-American residents are expected during a two-day visit to the Seattle area by Vietnam’s prime minister, Phan Van Khai.

The Northwest stop is the first on Khai’s weeklong U.S. tour, which also includes visits to the New York Stock Exchange, Harvard University and the White House. In Seattle, Khai is to meet with Boeing officials and hold a news conference today. The focus Monday will be Microsoft.

As many as 1,000 people might attend downtown rallies during his stay, said Sai Nguyen of the Vietnamese American Coalition in Northwest America.

“This is the first visit to the United States by a prime minister since the war ended” three decades ago, noted Chien Bach of the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Communist leader’s trip, mostly linked to business development, is attracting attention despite efforts to keep it low-profile.

“We respect their right to voice their view,” Bach said of the expected protests. “However, the protests do not reflect the common aspiration of the majority of the Vietnamese community in the United States who wish to see a good relationship between the two countries.”

Trade advocates and some Vietnam veterans are urging a warm welcome.

“We want to see the country we fought for emerge onto the world stage as a growing and vital nation,” said William Richards, member of a D.C.-based group called Vets for Friendship with Vietnam. “Using Phan Van Khai’s visit to raise issues long passed would be sad, and not the welcome we would want to see.”

In Seattle, Sherwood Dickie – housing manager for the local Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program – said he understands why Vietnamese Americans might protest.

Still, he said. “The war’s over. It is time to move on.”

Nguyen, an engineer who works for Snohomish County, said local residents should know that the Vietnamese government still violates human rights, denying free speech, freedom of religion and democratic elections.

Local members of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, many of whom spent years in “re-education” camps in Vietnam, plan to participate in the protests, said group president Hung Nguyen.

Boeing’s Renton plant will be the starting point for Khai’s U.S. tour. Vietnam Airlines has agreed to buy four 787 airplanes.

“We’re honored that he thinks enough of Boeing’s partnership with Vietnam Airlines, and our work toward betterment of the Vietnamese aviation industry, and our participation in helping the people of Vietnam through some of the challenges with donations … that he’d want to have participation with Boeing,” company spokesman Bob Saling said.

No details of the plant tour were released.

“Security is a factor here,” Saling said.

Khai also will meet today with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

Monday morning, he’ll visit with Microsoft founder Bill Gates at the company’s Redmond campus “to continue reinforcing the collaboration” between the company and Vietnam’s government, a company spokeswoman said Friday. Microsoft has an office in Vietnam.

In Boston, Khai will meet with the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to talk about expanding educational exchanges. In New York, he will meet with business leaders.

In the nation’s capital, he’ll seek President Bush’s help in gaining Vietnam’s admittance to the World Trade Organization.

In the 10 years since diplomatic ties were restored, the United States has become Vietnam’s top trading partner. U.S. investment in Vietnam has risen 27 percent each year since a bilateral trade agreement took effect in 2001.

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