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Protesters Rally for Activist Ly

Police estimate 700 demonstrators took part in the Westminster event to call attention to man arrested for leafleting Ho Chi Minh City.


Hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday in Little Saigon in support of an activist arrested earlier this month after dropping 50,000 anti-Communist leaflets on Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on the eve of President Clinton's visit there.

Tong Ly, 50, of New Orleans was arrested Nov. 16 in Thailand after returning from his flight over Vietnam. Ly was accused of forcing a pilot he had hired to give him flying lessons to fly into the country, low enough to avoid detection by radar, so he could drop the leaflets.

Last week, Little Saigon community members organized a 21-member committee to lead a campaign to free Ly.

Committee members said Sunday's demonstration on Bolsa Avenue in Westminster was organized to bring attention to Ly's case.

Demonstrators chanted anti-Communist slogans and waved the yellow and red flag of the former South Vietnam.

"I'm very proud of my hero," said Bich Nguyen, 40, who drove from her home in Los Angeles to attend the rally. "I try to provide a little support to comfort [Ly]. He must be very lonely in the prison."

Organizer Hai Lam of Fountain Valley said thousands of people signed petitions Sunday asking for help from such political leaders as Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

Westminster police estimated that about 700 people attended Sunday's rally; protest organizers said the numbers were in the thousands. The protest, which was spread along several blocks of Bolsa Avenue, remained peaceful.

Ly's supporters say he did not force the pilot to fly to Vietnam and did not carry a grenade on the plane, as Thai officials allege.

Ly became a hero to many in Little Saigon when he, by his own admission, hijacked a Vietnam Airlines jet in Thailand in 1992 in order to drop anti-Communist leaflets on Ho Chi Minh City.

Ly, a pilot in the South Vietnamese armed forces during the Vietnam war, put a rope around the neck of a stewardess on the plane and demanded to be flown to Vietnam.

After dropping the leaflets, Ly parachuted to the ground. He spent six years in a Vietnamese prison.

Ly is also known for flying to Cuba and releasing 50,000 anti-Fidel Castro leaflets over Havana last New Year's Day.

The fliers dropped on Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month called for demonstrations during Clinton's visit and an overthrow of the Vietnamese government.

"Let's everyone take to the streets," the leaflets said. "Be ready to smash any resistance of the hostile forces. The demonstration for freedom must [remain] until the victory."

Torrance resident Hoa Phan, who helped organize Sunday's event, said he considers Ly a "freedom fighter."

Little Saigon community members also plan to raise money for Ly's legal defense.

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