50 US lawmakers back fledgling democracy movement in Vietnam

50 US lawmakers back fledgling democracy movement in Vietnam

   WASHINGTON, May 30, 2006 (AFP) – Fifty US lawmakers are backing a fledgling human rights and democracy movement in communist-run Vietnam, saying it reflects “the thirst for freedom” in the booming Southeast Asian nation.
   The legislators from the House of Representatives pledged in an open letter their support for two public campaigns launched last month that seek respect of basic human rights, a multiparty political system, and freedom of religion and political association in Vietnam.
   “We wish to express our sincere support, encouragement, and respect for” those who signed the “Appeal for Freedom of Political Association” and the “Manifesto on Democracy and Freedom for Vietnam,” the lawmakers said in the letter, a copy of which was made available to AFP.
   “It is our understanding that since these documents were released, thousands of Vietnamese — living inside the country and abroad — have expressed their support,” they noted.
   “These documents are a compelling reminder that while the freedoms we enjoy are not universal, the thirst for freedom most certainly is,” they said.
   As of Tuesday, some 1,250 people had signed the manifesto on democracy, said Dan Hoang of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee, a US advocacy group with close links to pro-democracy groups inside Vietnam .
   This is the first time in recent years that so many people in Vietnam have signed on to public petitions, Human Rights Watch, a US group, said in a report this month.
   In the past decade, much smaller groupings of prominent Vietnamese dissidents have signed appeals for human rights and democracy.
   Human Rights Watch charged that the Vietnamese authorities were harassing prominent activists who signed the petitions.
   “We hope that this letter will further serve as a reminder to those who silence voices of freedom that any act of repression or intimidation against citizens peacefully expressing their beliefs is a gross violation of human rights — wholly inconsistent with the image of stability and progress that the Government of Vietnam is currently pursuing,” the American lawmakers said.
   “The world is watching,” they said, adding that the courage of those who signed the “historic” documents served as “an inspiration” to the world. “We stand with you in your struggle.”
   Concerns about restrictions on political and religious freedoms in Vietnam , one of the world’s five remaining communist-ruled countries, could be a critical factor in any US congressional approval for permanent normal trade relations for the one-time enemy.
   Such a status would grant Vietnam a most-favoured nation trade access not subject to periodic reviews.
   The United States is expected to sign a deal Wednesday paving the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this year, officials have said.
   It would be the last of 28 countries to sign the deal with Vietnam, which hopes to conclude multilateral WTO entry talks in July and join the Geneva-based club soon after.
   The deal would scrap US quotas on Vietnamese textiles and other key exports and give American companies greater access to the dynamic emerging market of more than 83 million people

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