WESTMINSTER — Wearing red and yellow cloth headbands in mourning for lost freedoms in Vietnam, 300 people gathered Saturday in Little Saigon to demonstrate for those who have no voice in the Southeast Asian nation.
In conjunction with United Nations International Human Rights Day, Vietnamese religious and political leaders led the rally along Bolsa Avenue to bring attention to what they said were violations of human rights in Vietnam.
"As we speak, many religious leaders and intellectuals are imprisoned for their commitment to freedom of religion and expression," said Quang Phan of West Covina.
Shouts of "Human rights for Vietnam!" mixed with the music of Vietnamese singer Ai Van and the din of car alarms in parking lots of nearby businesses. Parents marched with toddlers along Bolsa Avenue before heading to do their weekly shopping.
"I want my sons to remember those who have died while fighting for freedom," said Thang Pham, who brought his wife and children to the rally.
Westminster Councilman Tony Lam urged demonstrators to continue the fight for democracy in Vietnam. Mayors Charles V. Smith of Westminster and Bruce A. Broadwater of Garden Grove proclaimed Saturday Vietnam Human Rights Day in their cities.
"This is what's necessary in bringing much-needed attention to the civil rights abuses in Vietnam," Broadwater said.
Ky Ngo, a Republican who campaigned for Gov. Pete Wilson and former President George Bush, said the United States should do more to protect the rights of 70 million citizens of Vietnam.
"Why is it that we can send troops into Haiti to protect democracy there, then turn around and lift the trade embargo with Vietnam?" Ngo said, "Our foreign policy is not consistent. The Communist regime in Vietnam is violating human rights just like the Haitians under military dictatorship."
Earlier this year, dozens of Buddhist monks in Vietnam were arrested while trying to distribute $28,000 worth of food and other items to Vietnamese who lost their relatives and belongings in heavy floods, according to reports from the United Buddhist Religious Assn. in America. The donated items were confiscated by the government, said Thich Nguyen Tri, a Buddhist monk representing the association.
"As long as the people back home suffer," he said, "the people here must hold hands and join in the struggle for human rights."