01/12/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Amid arrests and censorship, Vietnam Communist Party congress gets underway

More than 1,400 delegates will decide new five-year plans and pick new leadership. Hundreds of police agents are deployed in the streets of Hanoi, fearing protests. Human rights groups complain about the arrest of dissidents and the blockage of Facebook and other websites.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/ Agencies) – Vietnam's ruling Communist Party opened its 11th Congress today (12-17 January) to adopt the country's five-year plans and especially choose new party and government leaders who will be tasked with meeting the challenges of development. Tight security measures were adopted for the occasion, as the authorities fear protests. Hundreds of anti-riot police have been deployed around the congress venue and in the streets of the capital.

Speaking to 1,400 delegates, outgoing General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc Manh praised the country’s economic development in the past five years but warned that its high growth rate, which averaged 7.2 per cent, is unsustainable. “The quality, efficiency and competitiveness remains low,” he said. “Bureaucracy, corruption, wastefulness, social vices, moral and lifestyle degradation have not been prevented.”

Improved living conditions and opportunities made possible by the country’s economic open door policy of the past few years have not undermined the authoritarian structure of the socialist state, which views freedom of thought, freedom of religion and democracy as social evils.

Speaking about Western countries, Nong warned, “Hostile forces continue to implement plots . . . using democracy and human rights as a pretext for attempting to change the political regime in our country.”

Various human rights organisations have reported the arrest of dissidents as well as the blockage of Facebook, websites and blogs.

In Hue (central Vietnam), police stopped a US Embassy official who was trying to meet Fr Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest who has become the symbol of the fight for democracy, leading to a strong-worded US protest to Vietnamese authorities.

Nevertheless, Vietnam’s new leadership is expected to be closer to the West and the United States than China, Hanoi’s historic political and economic ally.

Truong Tan Sang is expected to replace Nguyen Minh Triet as the country’s president. A former party boss in Ho Chi Minh City, Sang is thought to have international connections, particularly with Japan.

Nguyen Pho Trong is set to take over as party general secretary from Nong Duc Manh. He is seen as friendly to China but is now on more moderate positions.

Current Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will instead keep his job.

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