About 200 people, including a contingent from Orange County, converged on Riverside City Hall Thursday to demonstrate against the city’s relationship with a Vietnamese “sister city,” which critics say is tantamount to endorsing communist repression, while Riverside officials counter the city is engaging in international outreach.

They gathered in opposition to Riverside’s proposed sister-city agreement with Can Tho, Vietnam’s fourth-largest city.

Protesters from Orange, Los Angeles  and Riverside counties lined up on the Main Street pedestrian mall in front of City Hall, waving American and South Vietnamese flags and carrying signs denouncing communism and celebrating freedom.

Most of the demonstrators were of Vietnamese descent, including a few who wore military fatigues or uniforms of the long-defunct South Vietnamese Army.

“The city of Riverside should not have a relationship with such a brutal government,” Garden Grove City Councilman Phat Bui told ABC7.

His sentiments were echoed by fellow council member Chris Phan, who said an unconditional agreement to establish ties with a Vietnamese city was “completely wrong.”

Dr. Huu Dinh Vo, president of the Federation of Vietnamese Communities USA, condemned Vietnam as “the worst country in the world for human rights violations.”

The furor hit a fever pitch last week after representatives from Can Tho came to Riverside to formally sign an agreement cementing ties between their city and Riverside. The Riverside City Council voted in favor of the link-up in March.

The sister city bond is intended to promote cross-cultural learning and new experiences with people in other parts of the world, according to Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey.

“The sister city relationship provides a venue for direct, person-to- person conversations on issues of mutual interest to people all over the world, including education, public health, technology and commerce,” Bradley said. “The city of Riverside, working with Riverside residents who brought forth the idea of this relationship, looks forward to further developing those bonds with the people of Can Tho.”

He said that while the city respects the “viewpoints and rights” of those who have a different opinion, there’s no plan to consider nullifying the agreement with Can Tho.

According to Bui and Phan, the Garden Grove City Council will compose a letter urging Riverside to end the association. The city of Westminster is doing the same, according to published reports.

Last spring, more than 600 protesters — many from Westminster’s Little Saigon — gathered at Irvine City Hall after that city was poised to form a friendship city relationship with Nha Trang. The proposal was abandoned.

The Vietnam War unofficially ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. A mass exodus from South Vietnam ensued, with hundreds of thousands of “boat people” seeking refuge in the U.S., Australia and Canada.

Former President Bill Clinton established diplomatic ties with communist Vietnam before the end of his presidency.

According to the U.S. State Department website, the country does not recognize freedom of speech, nor freedom of religion. The agency also notes on its website that Vietnamese authorities consider advocacy for a democratic system of government to be a “terrorist offense.”

—City News Service

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