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Party Congress Opens in Hanoi


The congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam has opened in Hanoi. The congress will decide who takes over the country's key leadership posts for the next five years. But a shadow hangs over the gathering, cast by one of Vietnam's biggest corruption scandals ever.

The Internationale, in Vietnamese, echoed through Hanoi's Ba Dinh Hall Tuesday morning, sung by delegates at the opening of the 10th national congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The congress, held every five years, chooses the country's leadership and defines its overall policy positions. President Tran Duc Luong, 68, is widely expected to retire this year and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, 72, also may step down.

But the fate of Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, 65, is less certain. The general secretary heads the party Politburo, and the president and prime minister hold the second and third-ranking seats.

The congress is overshadowed by corruption scandals that have swept Vietnam over the past few months. In a candid opening speech to the congress, Manh blamed party members themselves for the problems.

Manh blames "the political, ideological, moral, and lifestyle degradation of not a few party officials, along with bureaucracy, corruption, and waste." Corruption, he says, threatens the survival of the Vietnamese government.

In recent months, Vietnam has been rocked by revelations that tens of millions of dollars were stolen by officials at a Transportation Ministry department called PMU-18. The scandal has already forced the Transportation Minister and many other officials to resign.

President Tran Duc Luong and others at the congress urged party members to make changes.

President Luong says the party needs to "enhance its fighting spirit" to continue to lead Vietnam.

Promoting economic growth is the main policy aim being discussed at the congress. One major question is how fast the country will move to privatize state-owned enterprises.

General Secretary Manh criticized the party for failing to help the economy grow as rapidly as possible, though it has averaged a strong seven-point-five percent growth rate over the past five years.

The decisions on the new leadership and the membership of the party's Central Committee will be announced at the end of the congress next Tuesday, after members have voted.

The congress also aims to polish the country's image, especially in such areas as rights for ethnic minorities and religious groups. The government has been criticized by the United States and other Western governments for restricting many civil liberties.

While General Secretary Manh said Tuesday that Vietnam wants friendly relations with all countries, some old confrontational attitudes remain.

Manh says that hostile forces are still implementing plots, using democracy, human rights, ethnicities and religious issues to change the political regime in our country."

Manh did not say who those hostile forces might be.

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