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Vietnam leader's visit is decried

About 400 protesters chant pro-democracy slogans outside a Dana Point resort.

June 23, 2007|Tony Barboza and Mike Anton | Times Staff Writers

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside a Dana Point resort Friday night to protest a visit by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, while authorities braced for another demonstration today that could draw thousands.

The protest outside the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa, where Triet hosted a reception for invited business leaders, culminated weeks of planning by anti-Communist groups in Orange County's Little Saigon.

"What we wanted here was a very peaceful protest to show [Triet] that the movement for democracy in Vietnam has a face," said Bung Tran, a member of the Vietnam Reform Party and one of the protest organizers.

Police estimated 400 people were in front of the resort Friday.

Protesters waved U.S. and South Vietnamese flags -- yellow with three red stripes. One man dragged and trampled the current Vietnamese flag.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Vietnamese protest: An article in Saturday's California section about Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to Orange County reported that several dozen protesters had greeted the leader earlier in the day when he met with President Bush at the White House. That number was based on a crowd count taken early in the day. Later counts put the gathering at nearly 1,000 protesters.

"We see that Vietnam is progressing economically," said Tina Thien-An Tran, 19, a Westminster college student. "But they're not enriching their own people with what matters most: human rights."

The anticipation of Triet's arrival caused some confusion, as protesters occasionally mistook passing luxury cars for the Vietnamese president's motorcade.

When a white Toyota Prius turned into the resort, several in the crowd began yelling.

"Go home, traitor," cried Minh Pham, 45, a computer-chip manager who flew in from San Jose Friday afternoon. It was unclear whether the Prius' occupants had anything to do with the Vietnamese president.

But at 7:45 p.m., a motorcade of more than a dozen vehicles -- limousines, sport utility vehicles and police escorts -- brought what everyone believed to be the president of Vietnam. The crowd spilled into the intersection, blocking traffic, waving flags and chanting "Freedom for Vietnam."

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, there to support the protest, pleaded with the crowd to stay out of the street.

"I know that's him. He's scared," said Hang Dang, 55, a medical lab technician from Garden Grove, holding a U.S. flag. "He didn't stand up in a convertible and wave or anything."

Around her neck hung a sign saying, "Triet does not represent the Vietnamese people."

The first visit to the U.S. by a Vietnamese president since the end of the Vietnam War has been the talk of the Vietnamese American community for months.

The most sensitive issue was whether Triet would visit Little Saigon in central Orange County, the nation's largest Vietnamese American community, where the passions of the Vietnam War still burn. On Friday, speculation among protest organizers was that he would avoid the enclave.

Accompanied by a delegation of Vietnamese businessmen, Triet met in Washington with congressional leaders Thursday and President Bush on Friday before flying to Los Angeles International Airport.

Triet spotlighted growing business ties between the United States and Vietnam, while Bush pushed him to improve Vietnam's human rights record. A number of pro-democracy advocates in Vietnam have been arrested or detained in recent months.

"Societies are enriched when people are allowed to express themselves freely or worship freely," Bush said after meeting with Triet. Triet said his talk with Bush was "direct and open."

"Our approach is that we would increase our dialogue so that we will have a better understanding of each other," he said through an interpreter.

Triet has been dogged by protesters throughout his trip. Several dozen were outside the White House during his meeting with Bush. And even before he arrived in California, dozens marched through Little Saigon to denounce his visit.

"We've been monitoring Vietnamese radio and knew what was being planned, so we were prepared for it," Westminster police Sgt. Brian Carpenter said.

Orange County sheriff's deputies erected crowd-control barriers around an area across the street from the St. Regis. More than two dozen deputies on foot, bicycle and horseback restrained the crowd.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

mike.anton@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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