RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered in Riverside on Thursday to protest its new sister-city relationship with a city in Vietnam, arguing that nation's communist government abuses human rights.
Several hundred people, many bused in from the Vietnamese-American community in neighboring Orange County known as Little Saigon, gathered outside City Hall, chanting "freedom" and waving U.S. and South Vietnam flags, the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1A3oKeS ) reported.
The Riverside City Council voted in favor of entering a sister-city relationship with Can Tho in March. But activists weren't alerted until officials from the picturesque city in the Mekong Delta flew to California to formalize the partnership this month, the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/18yJKi3) reported.
Can Tho is Riverside's ninth sister city, a relationship designed to enhance cultural, educational and business ties.
However, immigrants who fled Vietnam decades ago harbor deep animosity toward the government controlling their homeland.
People oppose the relationship because they're "very strongly concerned about what the communist government is doing there right now," Van Hoang, a 51-year-old Moreno Valley resident, told the Press-Enterprise.
He came to the U.S. with his family as refugees after the Vietnam war.
Protester and Garden Grove City Councilman Phat Bui told the crowd that the Vietnam government is corrupt and subjects those who disobey it to "brutal, ruthless harassment."
"It doesn't matter that the (sister city) contract has been signed," Dr. Huu Dinh Vo, board president of the Federation of Vietnamese Communities of the USA, told the Times before the protest. "If we don't speak up, they will keep celebrating. We care about a country whose people are still suffering — and we want them to reconsider their agreement."
The group successfully persuaded Irvine to sever a similar relationship with the coastal city of Nha Trang last year.
In a statement, the city of Riverside said it "respects all viewpoints and the rights of everyone to express themselves."
The sister city relationship "provides a venue for direct, person-to-person conversations on issues of mutual interest to people all over the world" and the city "looks forward to further developing those bonds with the people of Can Tho," the statement said.