06/24/2005, 00.00
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The Vietnamese premier in Wall Street, the heart of capitalism

Phan Van Khai yesterday visited the New York Stock Exchange. His visit was strongly contested by the American Vietnamese community.  

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, head of one of the remaining communist regimes, yesterday knocked at the door of one of capitalism's institutional centre: the New York Stock Exchange. Khai, the first head of the Vietnamese government to visit the United States since the end of the Vietnam War, looked out of the balcony at stock brokers and agents, together with his vice-premier and finance minister and the chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, John Thain.

As Khai rang the bell to signal the start of business, many agents turned towards the balcony, applauding and raising their hands in response to his greeting. "I think we have won the war, scores settled!" one of the agents said jokingly about the visit of Khai, who later paid a quick visit to the floor amid the brokers as they traded.

A big Vietnamese flag, with its yellow star against a red background, flanked the flag with stars and stripes on the large facade of the palace of Wall Street. But the behaviour of those standing before it was less accommodating than the brokers: around 100 Vietnamese immigrants, brandishing the old flag of the Republic of Vietnam, shouted "Communists go home!" and "Phan Van Khai is a murderer".

 "The prime minister represents a regime which violates human rights and represses freedom of worship in Vietnam," said Nguyet Minh Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Community of southern California. "We fail to understand why the US administration has laid down the red carpet for him. He does not deserve this respect."

The demonstrators, who came from Texas and Maine (and others also from other countries and overseas), had already protested throughout the week against Khan's meetings in Washington, including his visit on Tuesday to the White House for talks with George W. Bush. "We do not want him here! When there is freedom in Vietnam, then he can come," exclaimed Christine Ho who, like many other protesters, left Vietnam 30 years ago.

After Tuesday's meeting, Bush said "humanitarian questions" had been discussed, like the fight against AIDS, passing over in relative silence all the criticisms levelled by several American politicians about the south-east country's human rights record. Instead he backed the request of Vietnam to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Bush even said he accepted Vietnam's invitation for next year.

The government of this Asian country is seeking to conclude WTO negotiations for December; the crucial issue is to obtain the status of "favourite nation" of the US Congress. Many American MPs have criticized Hanoi's human rights record, and some are drawing up a document calling on the Hanoi government to allow more religious and political freedoms.

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