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Protesters Greet Vietnamese Prime Minister in Australia


Human rights protesters have greeted Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on his arrival in Australia. He is in Australia for talks on trade with his counterpart, Kevin Rudd. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

A small but noisy crowd of about 300 human rights demonstrators gathered in Canberra Monday at the start of Nguyen Tan Dung's official visit to Australia.

They demanded that Vietnamese authorities release political prisoners and allow democracy.

The Vietnamese prime minister is in Australia for a two-day visit to mark 35 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

To honor the occasion, Vietnam is granting clemency to two Australians facing execution in Hanoi for drug smuggling.

Trade and human trafficking have been key points of discussion between Mr. Dung and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Concerns about human rights in Vietnam have not been a central feature of this visit, despite the concerns of critics of the Vietnamese government. They say it violates the rights of its citizens and blocks basic freedoms, such as freedom of religion and land ownership.

Melanie Beresford, a regional expert at Sydney's Macquarie University, says Vietnam is pursuing an increasingly liberal political and economic path, which has reduced criticism of its record on human rights.

"My impression is that Australians are not too worried about it. I think there have been huge changes that have taken place in Vietnam over the last decade or so," she said. "You know, most Australians feel quite comfortable with the way Vietnam is progressing on the, sort of, long-term scale of things. It is not a country that is going backwards into evermore repression of the population."

However, in Hanoi on Tuesday, two journalists who exposed official corruption went on trial for allegedly writing inaccurate stories and what the court calls "abusing freedom and democracy."

Trade between Australia and Vietnam has grown by 20 percent annually over the past five years and is estimated to reach $8 billion this year.

Australian businesses have invested more than $1 billion in Vietnam and the country is Vietnam's third biggest export market.

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