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Vietnam, a one-party communist state, has one of south-east Asia's fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.

It became a unified country in 1976 after the armed forces of the communist north had seized the south of the country in the previous year.

This followed three decades of bitter independence wars, which the communists fought first against the colonial power France, then against US-backed South Vietnam. In its latter stages, this conflict held the attention of the world.


Vietnam Overview

The US had entered hostilities to stem the "domino effect" of successive nations falling to communism.

The jungle war produced heavy casualties on both sides, atrocities against civilians, and the indiscriminate destruction and contamination of much of the landscape.

A visit to Vietnam by US President Bill Clinton in November 2000 was presented as the culmination of American efforts to normalise relations with the former enemy.

Vietnam struggled to find its feet after unification and it tried at first to organise the agriculture-based economy along strict collectivist lines.

But elements of market forces and private enterprise were introduced from the late 1980s and a stock exchange opened in 2000.

Foreign investment has grown and the US is Vietnam's main trading partner. In the cities, the consumer market is fuelled by the appetite of a young, middle class for electronic and luxury goods. After 12 years of negotiations the country joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.

But the disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam is wide and some Communist Party leaders worry that too much economic liberalisation will weaken their power base and introduce "decadent" ideas into Vietnamese society.

Vietnam has been accused of suppressing political dissent and religious freedom. Rights groups have singled out Hanoi's treatment of ethnic minority hill tribe people, collectively known as Montagnards.


VIETNAM Leaders

President: Nguyen Minh Triet

Parliament confirmed Nguyen Minh Triet, the head of the Communist Party in Ho Chi Minh City, as president in June 2006. He has a reputation for fighting corruption and is seen as an economic reformer.

The former head of state, Tran Duc Luong, had submitted his resignation alongside the prime minister and the chairman of the National Assembly. The change of guard had been expected.

Secretary-general of the Communist Party: Nong Duc Manh

The Communist Party holds the real power in Vietnam. It reappointed Nong Duc Manh as its secretary-general in April 2006.

Mr Manh, who is seen as a moderniser, urged Vietnam to speed up economic reforms and to tackle bureaucracy and deep-rooted corruption.

He says he wants to "lift people from poverty and hunger" and to turn Vietnam into a developed, industrialised country.

Mr Manh began his first term in 2001, becoming the first secretary-general with no direct experience of the struggle for independence. He oversaw five years of strong economic growth.

The Communist Party leadership recommends candidates for the posts of president and prime minister.


VIETNAM Media

The Communist Party has a strong grip on the media. The Ministry of Culture and Information controls the press and broadcasting.

The government has shut down several publications for violating the narrow limits on permissible reporting. Journalists face large fines for transgressions which include denying revolutionary achievements and spreading "harmful" information or "reactionary ideology".

There are hundreds of newspapers and magazines, but television is the dominant medium. Vietnam Television (VTV) broadcasts from Hanoi and is available via satellite to the wider region. There are many provincial stations. Some foreign channels are carried via cable.

State-run Voice of Vietnam (VoV) operates six radio networks, including the VoV 5 channel with programmes in English, French and Russian.

There were around 20 million internet users by June 2008 (InternetWorldStats). Internet providers face fines or closure for breaking the rules and "cyber dissidents" have been imprisoned.


VIETNAM Facts

Full name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Population: 88.1 million (UN, 2009)

Capital: Hanoi

Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City

Area: 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)

Major language: Vietnamese

Major religion: Buddhism

Life expectancy: 72 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)

Monetary unit: 1 dong = 100 xu

Main exports: Petroleum, rice, coffee, clothing, fish

GNI per capita: US $890 (World Bank, 2008)

Internet domain: .vn

International dialling code: +84

 

Source: bbc.co.uk

 

 

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