HANOI: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressed Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its citizens, arguing that better human rights would improve the communist country’s economy, stability and regional power.
On his second full day in the southeast Asian nation, Obama met with activists, including pastors and advocates for the disabled and sexual minorities, to underscore US support for improved rights. Yet a handful of others were prevented from meeting with Obama, prompting the White House to protest to Vietnam’s government.
One of those denied access to the meeting was Nguyen Quang A, an economist who had tried unsuccessfully to be selected to the National Assembly.
He said when he left his home to attend the meeting, security men grabbed his hands and legs, threw him in a car and drove him into the countryside, then held him there until Obama had left town.
“They told my son, ‘Your father, we have to block him,” A said in an interview.
Obama took note of those denied access to the meeting, but said while “there are still areas of significant concern,” the country has made “remarkable strides in many ways.”
His visit to Vietnam included the lifting of one of the last vestiges of Vietnam War-era antagonism: a five-decades-old arms sale embargo.
In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to balance a desire for a stronger relationship with Vietnam with efforts to hold its leadership to account over what activists call an abysmal treatment of government critics.