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Orange County

Protesters Defend Man Facing Bomb Charges

Rally: Van Duc Vo is not a terrorist for his alleged attempt on a Vietnamese embassy, supporters say.

August 19, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of Vietnamese protesters rallied outside the federal courthouse in Santa Ana on Sunday, demonstrating against the extradition of a Southern California man who allegedly tried to bomb the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok last year.

Supporters from as far as Utah and Seattle attended the peaceful protest, which included a candlelight vigil and a planned one-day hunger strike by some demonstrators.

The protest was in support of Van Duc Vo, a member of a Little Saigon-based organization dedicated to overthrowing Vietnam's Communist government.

Although Vo has agreed to be extradited to Thailand to face bombing charges, a hearing on the matter is scheduled today before a federal judge in Santa Ana.

Vo's supporters gathered in a park next to the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse and chanted anti-Communist slogans, waved American flags and flags of the former South Vietnam and carried banners seeking the release of dozens of Vietnamese dissidents.

"We're overwhelmed by all the attention our family has gotten from this. I'm really proud of my father," said Vo's daughter, Jennifer Nguyen, 19.

Vo's parents, wife and children received a roar of applause when they spoke at the protest, where they were joined by religious and community leaders.

"He told us don't worry about him and everything will be OK. He wanted to make sure that we didn't let this matter get in the way of our schoolwork," Nguyen said. "We all miss him and want to see him home soon."

Vo, a U.S. citizen, was arrested by the FBI at John Wayne Airport in October. Federal prosecutors allege Vo tried to bomb the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok in June 2001.

He was charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction by a U.S. citizen in a foreign country, but the U.S. attorney's office dropped the charges after Vo agreed not to fight extradition to Thailand.

His family and supporters said they fear that if Vo is extradited, Thai officials may send him to face trial in Vietnam, where he would probably face harsh punishment.

Sunday's rally was organized by the Government of Free Vietnam, a Westminster-based group dedicated to overthrowing Vietnam's communist government.

Vo is a member of the organization.

The group's president, Chanh Huu Nguyen, arrived at the protest with an entourage of armed bodyguards dressed in black.

He stressed that his group did not sanction the embassy incident, which he said was designed not to blow up the building but simply cause a "bomb scare."

"We want Vo and his family to know that we all stand behind him," said Chanh Huu Nguyen.

"We want to make a plea to the U.S. court justices and government to not extradite Mr. Vo to Thailand and dismiss the case against him, because he is not a terrorist but a freedom fighter."

The protesters were both young and old. They hunkered down for what they promised will be a 24-hour demonstration, chanting "Freedom for Vietnam" and holding signs that read "Democracy for Vietnam" and "Communism Is the Enemy of Humanity."

Trinh Nguyen, 57, of San Diego, who said her son was arrested two years ago in Vietnam and sentenced to 16 years in prison for passing out anti-Communist fliers, sympathized with Vo and his family.

"I feel so sad that my son is a prisoner, but at the same time I'm proud that he, like Mr. Vo, loves his country so much and feels such a strong connection that he is willing to risk his own life in an attempt to free his people from Communism," she said.

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