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Vietnamese Trade Meeting Disrupted

Activism: Protesters harass Communist delegation and prevent Costa Mesa conference.


Led by a former South Vietnamese army ranger, slogan-chanting Vietnamese American protesters dogged the first trade delegation to visit California from Communist Vietnam over the weekend, forcing the delegates to abandon their Orange County hotel Saturday night and to cancel a Sunday event designed to boost bilateral trade.

The delegation, led by Nguyen Thien Nhan, the deputy mayor of Ho Chi Minh City, was turned away from the Whittier Law School campus in Costa Mesa, when its members arrived for a Sunday afternoon conference. They had expected to meet chain-store buyers and importers interested in distributing Vietnamese products.

Instead of being greeted by business people invited to the event, the delegates encountered an angry but orderly crowd of about 500 protesters, who waved flags of the former Republic of South Vietnam, and chanted slogans such as "The Viet Cong are terrorists" and "Human rights for Vietnam."

Do Thu Van, the former South Vietnamese army ranger who helped organize the protest, said that his followers had dogged the delegation ever since its Saturday arrival at Los Angeles International Airport. He said they prevented the delegates from checking into the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove, where they had reservations.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 25, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 12 inches; 444 words Type of Material: Correction
Protest leader--A story in Monday's California section about Vietnamese American protesters forcing cancellation of an Orange County trade conference incorrectly identified Nguyen Thien Nhan as the protest leader. The leader was Nguyen Phuong Hung.

One of the event's organizers said the visitors had to go to several hotels before they found accommodations.

Only one of the delegates, a businesswoman who runs the world's third-largest manufacturing plant for melamine housewares, managed to make her way into the law school's conference center. Instead of staying with the other delegates, she had spent the night with relatives in Little Saigon in Westminster.

A disappointed official of the Washington-based Vietnamese American Business Council, which was hosting the visit, told the small number of conference attendees who had made their way past the protesters that it was being canceled.

The official said that he himself was a refugee from Vietnam, and that he understood the protesters' sentiments but their efforts were misguided.

"The best way to improve the lot of the people in Vietnam is through increased trade, not political isolation," he said, speaking on the condition that he not be quoted by name.

"When U.S. manufacturers go there today, they ask about adherence to labor laws and pay scales for the workers," he said. "That's a better way to improve the lot of the people in Vietnam than waving flags and shouting slogans."

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