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Donors Pledge $ 2.5 Billion in Aid for Vietnam

Foreign donors meeting in Vietnam have pledged $2.5 billion in aid for next year. The money comes with no strings attached, though donors did raise concerns about stalled economic reforms and continued human rights abuses.

Vietnam will get five percent more aid next year than it did this year - $2.5 billion to lower poverty, build infrastructure and finance education.

Representatives of foreign aid agencies and donor governments have been meeting for the past two days in Hanoi. The meeting featured what was called the most open discussion in years of concerns over human rights abuses and the pace of economic reforms. Vietnamese officials listened politely, but in the end said the government would follow its own path.

Vo Hong Phuc, the Vietnamese planning minister, was the meeting's co-chairman. He says the communist country's transformation to a market economy must go slowly to prevent social upheaval. He adds that Hanoi will "take note" of donor concerns.

Since it began allowing independent enterprises in 1986, Vietnam has cut poverty by nearly half, to about 37 percent of the population, from 78 percent.

However, private enterprises and foreign companies still face discrimination and the country's legal system offers little recourse for business disputes.

Hanoi has shown few signs of extending the reform process to the political arena. The Communist Party remains the only legal political organization, and dissidents are regularly jailed.

In the past year, the government also began a harsh crackdown on evangelical Christians in its Central Highlands. Mr. Phuc on Wednesday defended the government's rights record, saying each country has its own concept of human rights.