KUALA LUMPUR — U.S. President Barack Obama has just wound up a visit to Vietnam that saw two former antagonists, who for two decades have been growing trade partners, draw even closer, with the dropping of a U.S. arms embargo against the communist-ruled country. “He himself said the welcome of Vietnamese people has touched his heart. [He was] very moved and very thankful,” said Vietnam’s new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, in an interview with foreign media given on Wednesday. Obama was greeted by thousands of well-wishers on the streets of Hanoi, the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city and economic hub of the country, which was previously known as Saigon. However, the visit was marred by signals that Vietnam, a one-party state, remains unwilling to cede ground on freedom of speech, with several noted advocates of democratic reforms prevented from meeting with Obama as scheduled and with the government staging a sham election to the country’s communist-run parliament on the day of Obama’s arrival. One positive note prefaced Obama’s arrival in Vietnam last Sunday, with the release from jail of one of the country’s most determined dissidents, Father Nguyen Van Ly. The Catholic priest was first imprisoned by the communist regime in 1977, two years after the end of the Vietnam War, and had spent much of the intervening 38 years in jail or under house arrest.
VIENTIANE – It should have been one of those rite-of-passage days for any teenager. On their way to school to collect exam results, *Phongsavath and two friends noticed an unusual-looking round steel object in the grass nearby. “We picked it up and passed it among us, wondering what it was and looking close,” he recalls, a wry half-smile belying the horror story to come. “I tried to open it,” he says, laughing at what in retrospect he says was his childish curiosity. “We looked at it, we passed it around. I tried to open it, but then It blew up”, he says, losing his hold on his white cane as he speaks. “Now as you see, I have no hands”.