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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vietnamese Premier Makes U.S. Visit

SEATTLE -- Phan Van Khai, the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit the United States since the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago, held out an olive branch to the emigre community as he began a weeklong U.S. tour aimed at boosting relations and gaining support for his country's entry into the World Trade Organization.

But Khai's visit prompted protests by Vietnamese living in the United States, including heckling on Sunday from a group of about 300 in Seattle who called for Khai to leave the country and carried signs likening him to Saddam Hussein.

The visit came 30 years after U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam and 10 years after the two countries normalized relations during President Bill Clinton's administration.

Khai, 71, was scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House. He planned a Monday meeting at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

At a news conference in a Seattle hotel, Khai said Vietnam would continue working with the United States to build its economy.

"Despite differences on sensitive issues, it should be noted that there are not major differences between the two countries," he said through an interpreter.

Khai is seeking Bush's help in gaining Vietnam's admittance to the World Trade Organization. In the 10 years since diplomatic ties were restored, the United States has become Vietnam's top trading partner. U.S. investment in Vietnam has risen 27 percent each year since a bilateral trade agreement took effect in 2001. The two-way trade was worth $6.4 billion last year.

Khai said increased economic development in Vietnam will improve people's lives and bring stability to Southeast Asia, and asked Vietnamese living in the United States to help bolster the connection between the two countries.

"It is our government's consistent policy to consider the Vietnamese community living abroad as an important and integral part of our nation and our resources," he said.

Demonstrators gathered across the street from the hotel and blocked the road outside, waving banners and the old gold-and-crimson flag of South Vietnam. They shouted "Down with communists" and held signs that read "Khai is another Saddam Hussein."

Khai said the Vietnamese people should heal the wounds left from war with the United States, and said Vietnam had worked to address concerns about human rights abuses.

But Human Rights Watch urged the United States to raise questions about Vietnam's civil rights record. The group said it has documented cases of abuses by the communist government, including the arrests of dissidents for promoting democracy or human rights.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have settled in the United States since communists gained control of the country. More than 1 million now live in the United States, including an estimated 130,000 in California's Orange County, where hundreds gathered in protests in the days leading up to Khai's visit.