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Ho Chi Minh poster angers Vietnamese Americans

ho chi minh
CNN's Charles Feldman shows the protests and talks with the shop owner
Windows Media 28K 80K

In this story:

January 21, 1999
Web posted at: 3:06 p.m. EST (2006 GMT)

WESTMINSTER, California (CNN) -- There's nothing illegal about the poster that Truong Tran displays in his Los Angeles area video store, but the anger it has aroused nearly a quarter century after the end of the Vietnam War is proof of the awesome power of a single image.

The picture that has ignited angry protests in recent days is of the late Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Alongside it is the flag used by Communist North Vietnam before it took over South Vietnam in 1975 and unified the nation.

The two symbols are too much for residents of Westminster, an Orange County community known as "Little Saigon," where anti-Communist sentiment is strong.

Hundreds of Vietnamese-American protesters and a few U.S. veterans of the war have demonstrated outside Truong's shop in recent days, demanding he remove the poster and flag.

Many of the demonstrators fled South Vietnam when it was taken over by the Communists in 1975. Others left more than a decade later, after being freed from North Vietnamese prison camps.

Truong Tran
(Audio 249 K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Truong Tran

'Ho Chi Minh is a murderer'

On Wednesday, the third day of protesting, they chanted, "Down with Ho Chi Minh!" and "Human rights for Vietnam!" Many waved paper South Vietnamese flags. Others unfurled giant American flags and waved them as a Vietnamese man sang the "Star Spangled Banner." The crowd joined in when he began to sing the anthem of South Vietnam.

Many likened the picture of Ho to posting a swastika or portrait of Adolf Hitler in an immigrant Jewish community. "If your father was killed by Ho Chi Minh, there's no way you can let him do this," said Thang Tran, 52.

Giang Ho said he lost seven members of his family -- including his grandfather, grandmother and two uncles -- to the Viet Cong, as the Communist guerrilla forces were known during the war.

(Audio 249 K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
This protester says take the picture of Ho Chi Minh down

He was just 3 years old when his father was sent to prison. He didn't see him again for 10 years.

Thang Ho, Giang Ho's father and a former South Vietnamese army captain during the Vietnam War, said he remembers vividly the backbreaking work he was forced to do clearing thick jungles in North Vietnam. After working all day, the prisoners were taken back into the camp where they'd be forced to learn Communist teachings.

"I have been fighting the Communists all my life," Giang Ho said. "Ho Chi Minh is a murderer. We cannot forget."

Hoai Nguyen, 65, said he was serving in the South Vietnamese army when he got word that his parents had been killed. The Viet Cong had invaded his village and slit the throats of his mother and father.

(Audio 249 K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Protester says it is painful to see the picture of Ho Chi Minh

'I like Ho Chi Minh'

As a U.S. resident, Truong, 37, says he has a right to display the poster and flag. "Ho Chi Minh. I like him and I have a right to hang it on my shop. I have a right," he said.

Truong was hit on the back of the head by a protester as he was leaving the store. Apparently, he was not seriously hurt during the Monday incident. The store did not open on Wednesday, but the inflammatory picture and flag could be viewed through the window.

Westminster police Capt. Andrew Hall said city officials don't have the right to remove the items from private property. "It's political speech," Hall said. "And because it's political speech, law prevents the government from interfering with it."

The government can't, but maybe his landlord can. A notice has been posted on the store giving Truong 30 days to vacate.

Correspondent Charles Feldman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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