Al-Qaeda Uses PayPal, Orkut, MySpace

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These popular sites double as terrorist networking sites and allow Osama bin Laden’s operatives to not only hide in plain sight but also spread propaganda, recruit new members, find fund-raisers and coordinate their activities. Terrorists also use electronic dead drops to avoid their e-mail from getting intercepted during transit and PayPal to raise funds easily. Shutting down these operations is nearly impossible.

Terrorist networks have moved from relying on “fixed” private Web sites to free Internet e-mail and social networking sites that are nearly impossible to shut down, ABC News reports.

News Corporation’s MySpace, Google’s Orkut and Friendster all provide free member-to-member messaging, photo storage space, bulletin boards, blogs and personal profiles. All these features make the sites attractive to terrorists who are promoting terrorism and recruiting non-Arabic-speaking Westerners, USA Today reports.

Orkut has at least 10 groups devoted to supporting Osama bin Laden or jihad against the U.S., according to the newspaper. The biggest community has over 2,000 members, links to the Islamic Army in Iraq and shows videos and pictures of attacks on U.S. soldiers.

In recent years, terrorists have developed their own encryption tools and started using the 21st-Century version of the classic “dead dropping,” which allows two people to exchange information at a location without the need to be there at the same time, writes Eben Kaplan, of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Free e-mail services, like Yahoo! and Hotmail, allows terrorists to save their e-mail in the draft box for others to retrieve it using the same password. Since the e-mail does not leave the server, the only ways for intelligence agencies to see them are to hack the account and monitor the servers.

Media-savvy terrorist supporters have used the Internet to accept PayPal donations. “Irhabi 007,” now in Scotland Yard’s custody after eluding the authorities for years, used his hacking abilities to securely disseminate training manuals and propaganda videos and shared his skills with others. His work was crucial in uploading and distributing a 45-minute propaganda video made by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

“Juba” the Baghdad sniper has struck fear in U.S. soldiers who have no idea whether they will be the next victim of this highly trained gunman. The unidentified sniper and his associates claim they killed 143 U.S. soldiers and wounded 54 in just one year. He videotapes his shootings and uploads them to the Web.

The horrifying irony in these examples is how the terrorists have successfully used our way of life — whether checking Gmail or keeping friends up to date on MySpace — against us. And there is little we can do to stop them.

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U.S. Military Has Chikungunya Vaccine

At its top secret medical facility, the U.S. military developed a safe and effective vaccine against the debilitating chikungunya [CHIK] virus, which infected 186,000 people, or 20 percent of Réunion’s population, 15,000 km (9,350 miles) away fromFort Detrick, Maryland. After several successful trials, the vaccine against this “potential bioterrorist agent” is stuck somewhere in the U.S. for military personnel only and has yet to see the light of day.

The military’s active interest in this disease dates back to the early 1960s when Thailand was overrun by simultaneous outbreaks of cholera, dengue and chikungunya. It is rarely lethal but has the potential to disable civilians and soldiers for weeks if not months.

Since World War II, the U.S. military scientists have been scouting the world for infectious diseases, studying them, investigating their potential for offensive biological weapons, finding cures, and planting research centers around the globe. It was epidemic cholera in Thailand that paved the way for the U.S. military to study the chikungunya virus and eventually create a live attenuated vaccine.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Thailand became ground zero for many prominent U.S. researchers who studied highly pathogenic, hemorrhagic forms of dengue fever, cholera and chikungunya. Dr. William McD. Hammon, Dr. Scott B. Halstead, Dr. E.J. “Gene” Gangarosa and others all ended up in Bangkok. Today the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research [WRAIR] still maintains a facility in the country.

In 1958, the U.S Naval Medical Research Unit II [NAMRU-2] based in Taipei was deployed to Bangkok, where a cholera epidemic offered them another chance to study it and refine treatment techniques explored by NAMRU-3 during the 1947 epidemic in Egypt. The team invented the “Watten cholera cot,” an Army cot that has a hole with a funnel under the rectum to collect choleraic stools. (It is gross to picture this cot, but it helped them get an accurate measurement of the stool in liters.)

In 1959, researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed arrived to the study the cholera patients. Dr. Halstead arrived in 1961 just as dengue started sweeping Bangkok again and chikungunya turned out to be in the mix of the sometimes deadly coinfection of the two nasty bugs.

In 1962 alone, 357,000 people were infected with Dengue, Chikungunya or both, Dr. Halstead wrote in 1969 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and HygieneChikungunya [CHIK] strain 15561 came from this outbreak and ended up in the United States, where it was used to manufacture a weakened version of the virus for use as vaccine.

“This promising live vaccine was safe, produced well-tolerated side effects, and was highly immunogenic,” wrote Dr. Robert Edelman in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2000. In the Phase II safety and immunogenicity study by Dr. Edelman and others, 98 percent of vaccine recipients developed chikungunya antibodies by day 28, and 85 percent of the recipients remained seropositive after a year. Only a few volunteers experienced transient arthralgia. This vaccine was labeled “TSI-GSD-218.”

The U.S. Army Medical Institute for Infectious Diseases [USAMRIID] at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, conducted several Phase I trials, but efforts to find a cure began much earlier. Published studies about CHIK vaccine experiments began appearing in 1967 (Harrison, Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg.), and in 1969 AMRIID, which had just been created out of the Army Medical Unit, submitted an experimental vaccine using the killed chikungunya virus. Walter Reed also tested a version of the vaccine in 1969.

The U.S. military considers chikungunya a threat to its forces and lists it as a “potential bioterrorist agent.” The vaccine was designed for soldiers deploying to CENTCOM, PACOM, SOCOM and EUCOM, according to the Federation of American Scientists, but it is unknown whether current soldiers are being given the vaccine. The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine tells American soldiers that there is no cure for the disease in a bulletin updated last month and recommends mosquito repellent.

Chikungunya is believed to have been documented as early as in 1779 Batavia, now Jakarta, Indonesia. The virus was isolated for the first time during the 1952-1953 outbreak in southern Tanganyika, now Tanzania. The name means “stooped walk” or “one that bends/folds up” in Swahili/Makonde and describes a key symptom of the disease — arthralgia, excruciating joint and muscle pain that can last weeks or months into convalescence.

Symptoms are generally similar to dengue fever which makes diagnosing a pain and could lead to misclassification. CHIK is mosquito-borne and sustained by human-to-mosquito-to-human transmission, making vector control, short of a vaccine, the most critical component of fighting the disease. In the latest outbreak, the vicious Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), not the usual Aedes aegypti and others, is believed to be the primary vector, according to journal Science. (Vol. 311. no. 5764, p. 1085, 24 Feb. 2006)

According to the journal, the U.S. military blames funding shortage for the limbo in turning the vaccine loose for public use. In the meantime, chikungunya, which arrived in Le Réunion from the Comoro Islands in March 2005, has now spread to Mauritius where 2,553 cases have been reported. The number of reported cases in Mayotte was 924 and in the Seychelles 4,650.

Worse, in Réunion, 93 people died directly or indirectly from chikungunya infection.

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Bush’s Symbolic Exit Strategy Blocked

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He was visibly irked. A reporter dared to say the American president seemed “off [his] game.” He blamed it on jet lag and used his greatest weapon for dodging questions — exit from the stage. President Bush not only reached for the wrong door, but he also found the door locked. (Watch BBC’s footage.) Much like the symbolic on-stage gaffe, there was no breakthrough in any of the banner issues during his state visit.The Washington Post reports in this morning’s issue:

When President Bush was flying toward Asia a week ago, his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, predicted to reporters in the back of the plane that the four-nation trip would yield no “headline breakthroughs.” He turned out to be right.

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At home, President Bush has always carried his Texan heritage proudly, donning cowboy shoes and hat like second skin. Photographers also catch him wearing tights after his bike rides. Yet it is unclear why his image consultants thought that the president of the United States, during a state visit, should wear tights and ride a mountain bike with professional Chinese cyclists who were clearly giving him the lead out of deference.

Imagine French President Jacques Chirac wearing shorts for a bike ride with Tour-de-France legend Lance Armstrong during a state visit to the United States. He wouldn’t unless he wants to commit political suicide.

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Can a US$100 Laptop Change the Future?

Scientists at M.I.T. believe it will. How? By blanketing schools in poor countries with these screaming green, do-it-all, wireless laptops. When more than 10 million children die each year from preventable conditions (PDF), this eye candy seems like it should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. But this laptop comes in handy in a Cambodian village without any electricity. It is a source of light. Will school children think the same?

A prototype of the “$100 Laptop” was introduced at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis this week. Developed by the M.I.T. Media Lab, the computer comes in one flavor: a 500 MHz processor, 1 GB flash memory, 1 megapixel screen, hand-cranked rechargable battery, WiFi, Linux operating system and other open-source software for word processing, Web browsing and e-mail.

Design Continuum came up with the bright green case lined with shock absorving material and an equally bright, neon-colored hand crank. It screams children and would look odd in the hands of would-be thieves especially when everyone in the world would recognize it.

Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Lab and co-inventor of the $100 Laptop, wants tens of millions of these laptops to be given to governments in poor countries through “One Laptop per Child [OLPC],” a nonprofit group formed by Advanced Micro Devices, Brightstar, Google, News Corporation, and Red Hat.

The innovative minds at the Media Lab and its sponsors will solve technical hurdles, such as actually designing a low-cost screen and reducing the manufacturing cost. But what will school children in remote African villages that do not even have cell phone towers do with a wireless laptop?

Gateway to the World?

These laptops should help school children connect to the rest of the world. In Tunisia, for example, that gateway to the world is controlled by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family. Online writers critical of the government have been jailed and had their Web sites blocked. And when “One Laptop Per Child” gives these laptops to school children, the content and Internet access will be controlled by the government. These laptops may help the government spread its propaganda more effectively and help the officials reach a younger generation.

Ironically, Robert Ménard, secretary-general of media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières [RSF], was detained on board an Air France jet from Paris after it landed in Tunis and denied entry into the country to attend the U.N. summit. Alongside hunger strikers and human rights activists, R.S.F. launched a campaign to identify “15 enemies of the Internet,” which included President Ben Ali. But the criminal complaint used by Tunisia to bar his entry dates back to June 2001 when 20 R.S.F. members occupied the Tunisian Tourism Office to protest the arrest and imprisonment of Tunisian journalist Sihem Bendrine.

Last week, in the evening of 11 November, Christophe Boltanski, a correspondent for the French daily Libération, suffered repeated blows to the head and was stabbed by who were believed to have been police in plainclothes, the paper said.

But in countries where speech is not controlled, increased communication can lead to positive results. Pakistani representative Masood Khan told the U.N. delegates:

“Information is not just an economic tool,” Kahn told delegates in the main hall. “We need its infinite power to combat the rising tide of prejudice and hatred.”

The O.S. War

The $100 Laptops could become the standard for tens of millions of schoolchildren in the developing world. Microsoft reportedly mocked the concept of the $100 laptop at first, The Wall Street Journal said. When the software giant apparently realized the stakes, it turned “antagonistic.” Apple, on the other hand, offered its OS X for free. The project leaders turned it down because it was not open source.

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[Dr. Negroponte, of the Media Lab, is the brother of Ambassador John. D. Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence.]

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Everyone Should Have a MAV

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You’re stuck in traffic and can’t see ahead of you. You need a closer look at your boyfriend and the mystery woman at a restaurant and use thermal imaging at an apartment complex after dinner. Or you’re engaged in urban combat and need an eye in the sky to spot Zarqawi’s men with infrared sensors. Then, you need a MAV, a Micro Air Vehicle that flies at 58 miles per hour, stores and relays video, and can “hover and stare” from a safe distance. Wouldn’t you want one for Christmas?Honeywell is giving the U.S. military a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Each “backpackable” unit contains two Micro Air Vehicles and a ground station. The MAV, which uses a ducted fan for vertical takeoff and movement, can fly for an hour and reach 10,500 feet.

The concept was born at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as Darpa, to allow mobile units to carry their own unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] on their missions.

The photo in Honeywell’s brochure (PDF file) shows four little MAVs flying all over an open terrain in a scene reminiscent of futuristic sci-fi movies. But these insect-looking creatures are not pretty and have no glowing eyes.

It apparently comes in black, as seen in the recent U.S. Army photo. After more than 200 flight tests, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment used a Honeywell MAV in a training exercise in Hawaii. The components look hard to put together — especially when taking enemy fire.

All this is part of the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems, a program to modernize the military with unmanned, high-tech gadgets that are linked by a single network. It will eventually include armed robotic vehicles and unmanned helicopters. Graphics in the white paper look like combat elements from a gaming software.

Pentagon speak:
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, DoD’s LSI for FCS, expects MAV to become the Class I UAV for FCS.

Signs that the Pentagon has been using untrained robots to write press releases:

Honeywell International, Defense and Space Electronics Systems, Albuquerque, N.M., is being awarded an undefinitized modification to a previously awarded other transaction for prototypes agreement to add the Micro Air Vehicle Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration effort to the on-going Organic Air Vehicle program.

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How Fujimori Eluded Interpol and Surprised Others

In this photo released by Alberto Fujimori’s press service, the former Pervuian president reviews a map of Peru before landing in Santiago, Chile. He flew as a stowaway from Tokyo.

He escaped Peru in 2000 under the guise of a state visit to Japan and sought refuge in his ancestral homeland. The stealthy return last week of the fugitive authoritarian to South America has roiled the region and jolted officials from bureaucratic slumber. The austere man of 67 traveled incognito, eluding the Interpol and thumbing his nose at Mexico and Chile.Mr. Fujimori bought his way into South America, chartering a Bombardier Global Express series executive jet for US$450 million, according to Peruvian daily La Republica.

Citing Chilean aviation officials, La Republica said the plane, which has a range of 11,390 km (7,120 mi), flew 8,948 km (5,593 mi) over 9 hours and 45 minutes from Tokyo to Tijuana and another 8,779 km (5,487 mi) over 9 hours and 42 minutes to Santiago. The jet then went on to the South Pacific, according to its flight plan.

The jet’s tail number, N949GP, shows the plane is registered to Wilmington Trust Co., a financial services firm based in Delaware, which leased it to Leading Edge Aviation Services in Texas. But the jet’s passenger manifest, when it arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, reportedly did not list Mr. Fujimori, who stayed inside during the 55-minute stopover in the border town. Other reports have said the local Mexican officials knew he was on board but let him go because he was transiting. That seems unlikely, however, since the Interpol warrant would have required them to detain him regardless.

Even Japanese officials appeared uncertain which airport Mr. Fujimori used to leave Tokyo, suggesting his name was not on the list either when he left Japan. The only three passengers on the manifest were Jorge Béjar, Arturo Makino and Katsutaka Nagato, according to El Mercurio.

Chilean officials were also caught off guard, according to police spokesman Jaime Méndez. The plane landed in Santiago on Sunday, 6 November. The Chilean government had no prior knowledge of his arrival, he told Santiago daily El Mercurio. An inexperienced immigration officer, apparently baffled by the unannounced arrival of a former head of state, mistakenly stamped him without notifying his superiors, Mr. Méndez said. That officer, who has been suspended, looked at a database 15 minutes later only to learn that Interpol had red-flagged Mr. Fujimori.

He was detained Monday at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Santiago on Peru’s request for extradition. His first request for a probationary release has been denied.

Chile and Mexico became victims of Mr. Fujimori’s carefully executed plan to rob them of their right to refuse entry to South America’s notorious fugitive. To Mexican President Vicente Fox, the revelation is an embarrassment. Either the authorities at the airport were slackers and did not check the plane or they were paid off. When Mr. Fujimori was indicted on nearly two dozen counts of human rights abuses, embezzlement, political assassination and other charges, Mexico was among the first to promise his extradition.

As for Chile, Mr. Fujimori picked the perfect country to launch his re-election campaign. Chile’s judicial reform includes streamlining the extradition process, which used to require a separate investigation by a judge and a higher standard of proof. Plus, Chile has been kind to former heads of states, including ailing ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet and the late Erich Honecker, the former leader of East Germany.

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Tamiflu® Economics

Worldwide, about 122 people have caught avian influenza (A/H5N1); and 62 of them died). They came in direct, intimate contact with infected birds or with someone who was in intimate contact with poultry. As migrating birds brought the potentially deadly strain to the West, a sense of panic enveloped governments. They were pressed to jumpstart preparations for a pandemic and buy the only promising weapon against avian flu. And despite the money being poured into securing stockpiles of Tamiflu®, there is little flexibility in shortening the time it takes to make the drug from shikimic acid, which is extracted from Chinese star anise. Yet investors in Tamiflu®, like U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are making out like a bandit.tamiflu.jpgWorldwide, about 122 people have caught avian influenza (A/H5N1); and 62 of them died). They came in direct, intimate contact with infected birds or with someone who was in intimate contact with poultry. As migrating birds brought the potentially deadly strain to the West, a sense of panic enveloped governments. They were pressed to jumpstart preparations for a pandemic and buy the only promising weapon against avian flu. And despite the money being poured into securing stockpiles of Tamiflu®, there is little flexibility in shortening the time it takes to make the drug from shikimic acid, which is extracted from Chinese star anise. Yet investors in Tamiflu®, like U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are making out like a bandit.

[Update: The Washington Post reports this morning on the rising demand for Chinese star anise. Most ordinary famers, however, have benefited little from the price hike. (18.11.2005)]Oseltamivir phosphate, sold under the brand name Tamiflu®, has shown to be effective against the H5N1 avian influenza virus circulating in Asia, according to C.D.C. Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. But it is neither a cure-all drug nor a vaccine. It falls in the class of antiviral drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors, which attempt to stop or disrupt the spreading of the influenza virus. (The “N” in H5N1 represents the neuraminidase glycoprotein; the “H” represents hemagglutinin [HA] glycoprotein responsible for attaching the virus to cells.) More peer-reviewed research on anecdotal reports of oseltamivir resistance is expected to be published in the coming months.

Gilead Sciences, Inc., a California-based pharmaceutical firm, developed oseltamivir and licensed manufacturing and marketing rights in 1996 to F. Hoffman-La Roche, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. The patent on oseltamivir runs out in 2016. In June, when avian influenza was becoming a growing concern and governments and companies began stockpiling the drug, Gilead told Roche that it was terminating the 1996 licensing agreement.

In a statement, Gilead said Roche breached the agreement because it failed to adequately “commercialize” and promote Tamiflu®, suffered from repeated manufacturing problems that led to supply shortages, and did not pay the full royalty. The dispute has now entered a binding arbitration process that could last a year. The squabble would not affect production, a Roche spokesman said.

Before avian flu became a concern, few had heard of oseltamivir. And as Gilead alleged in the press release, Roche had taken few steps to market the drug in the United States and other major markets. The drug’s fortune has changed since then. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld owns at least US$5 million worth of Gilead shares and continues to profit from the growing demand for Tamiflu® and has decided, on advice of a private securities lawyer, not to sell the stocks. Mr. Rumsfeld, whose department has ordered US$58 million worth of Tamiflu® for the troops, has recused himself from decisions related to the drug. His ties to Gilead dates back to 1988 when he became a board member. He was chairman of the board from 1997 to 2001.

Other famous members on the board include former Secretary of State George Shultz and Gayle Wilson, wife of former California Governor Pete Wilson.

Tamiflu® is a weapon against not only avian influenza but also a wide range of Types A and B influenza. Yet in the third quarter of last year, Gilead received only US$1.7 million in royalty from Roche, compared to US$12.1 million it got in the same period this year. Analysts estimate that the royalty amounts to 10 percent of what Roche makes on the drug. Gilead’s total revenue in the third quarter was US$493.5 million, a 51 percent increase from last year.

Profits from Tamiflu® are expected to skyrocket for both Gilead and Roche, as governments and companies place billions of dollars’ worth of orders for it. But can Roche meet the demand quickly? Probably not.

It takes about 12 months to make Tamiflu® capsules from raw ingredients. Shikimic acid, the chief ingredient, is extracted from Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) — unrelated to anise (Pimpinella anisum). China meets the bulk of world’s industrial demand for shikimic acid, but Roche has found an alternate, steady source in a modified strain of E. Coli, according to Chemical & Engineering News. Dr. John W. Frost and his research group specialize in genetically engineering microbes and have created an E. Coli strain, which, when fed glucose, produces a lot more shikimic acid than normal strains do.

The demand for Tamiflu® has nearly doubled the wholesale price of the star anise in Guangdong, Yunnan and Fujian provinces, China Daily reported today. There have been conflicting reports about whether there is a shortage of star anise. Chinese news agencies have denied this. But turning star anise into shikimic acid and then to the flu drug is not as easy as buying star anise off the market. The 10-step chemical process is long and tedious and involves explosive azide chemistry.

Amid fears of Tamiflu® shortage, India and Taiwan have said they would go ahead and produce generic versions of the drug without Roche’s permission. India admits there are technical challenges and difficulties in obtaining raw material. Taiwan claims to have already produced a version that is almost, but not quite, like oseltamivir.

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Notorious Spammer Found Dead

Notorious spammer and scammer, Vardan (Vardanovich) Kushnir, was found dead in his Moscow apartment with blunt trauma to his head.Vardan (Vardanovich) Kushnir, Russia’s most notorious spammer, was found dead in his Moscow apartment Sunday. According to Interfax, he died of repeated blunt trauma to the head.

He was reviled among Internet users for his aggressive spamming tactics to sell English conversation programs at the American Language Center in Moscow.

Russian hackers tried to get him to stop by launching denial-of-service attacks on his Web sites. Others posted classified ads using the school’s telephone numbers to inundate him calls seeking cheap escorts.

Even his passport number and home address were published in some Russian-language bulletin boards. Was it the work of antispam vigilantes described in Brian McWilliams’ Spam Kings?

In Florida, Mr. Kushnir, of Armenian descent, set up a shell company called Sophim, Inc. with one Michael Orrin Walker, using an address at a strip mall. In 2001, he was involved in a securities scam in Kansas.

Neither Russia’s Internet users nor the government, which tried unsuccessfully to prosecute him for fraud-related charges, will miss him. He was 35.

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Vietnam and Human Rights

Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s historic visit to the United States signals a diplomatic step forward, but expatriates of the Communist country are urging President Bush to promote freedom and democracy.

Mr. Khai is the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit the U.S. since the war ended three decades ago. But what greeted him in Seattle, his first stop, was a group of protesters who chanted “Go home Khai!” and overshadowed what his delegation hoped would be a landmark news conference.

A group of Vietnamese expatriates across the country have taken out an ad in today’s edition of The Washington Post, urging President Bush to pressure Mr. Khai to institute democratic reform and restore freedom.
In an open letter to Mr. Bush, they ask him to remind Mr. Khai of “Hanoi’s obligation to respect human rights; release all prisoners of conscience; return self-governance to religious congregations; [and] restore freedom of the press.”

They also ask the president to urge Vietnam to “abolish Article 4 of the 1992 Constitution,” which established the Communist Party of Vietnam as the ultimate ruler and arbiter of all matters in the country.

The Vietnamese “don’t have the freedom of expression, religion or movement,” Tony Nguyen Thanh Trang, chairman of the Vietnam Human Rights Network, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Nguyen himself has been unable to return to Vietnam where prominent human rights advocates, including leaders of unapproved churches, have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned.

Mr. Khai’s visit, however, is largely aimed at securing U.S. backing for Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization [WTO] and boosting private investment in order to exceed its annual growth rate of about seven percent and more than US$6 billion in trade with the United States.

On Sunday, he toured a Boeing plant in Renton, Washington, and met with Microsoft founder Bill Gates as well as executives from Gap and Nike. He is also scheduled to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange [NYSE] and visit Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Under the one-party system, Mr. Nguyen said, “any competition would be unfair because they abuse women and children in forced labor and prisoners in labor camps.”

In the 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. State Department cited Vietnam for abusing children and prisoners as part of the national workforce. The Communist government was also cited for restricting or banning the freedom to speak, publish, worship and travel.

At the same time, the Bush administration has been seeking closer defense ties with Vietnam. U.S. naval vessels have made port calls in the past two years, and the Pentagon plans to invite Vietnamese officers for U.S. military training.

But the open letter to Mr. Bush cautions that U.S. strategic interests would be served only “when Vietnam has a true government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

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