Vietnam PM escapes punishment despite censure

HANOI - Vietnam's prime minister escaped disciplinary action from communist party chiefs on Monday despite anger over a string of financial scandals and an economic malaise that have marred his leadership.

Nguyen Tan Dung, 62, while not mentioned directly, was seen as the target of a statement from a meeting of the Communist Party's 175-member Central Committee, in what amounted to one of the most stinging rebukes publicly issued by the secretive state in recent times.

The 14-member politburo - the party's key decision-making body - "seriously criticised themselves and honestly admitted their mistakes", said communist party leader Nguyen Phu Trong in a speech broadcast by state media.

He said the central committee had decided not to impose disciplinary measures "for the whole politburo and a member of the politburo".

It had instead urged the group to "fix the mistakes, so that hostile forces could not distort the situation".

Rising public dissatisfaction - expressed through increasingly spirited online discussion - has put Dung under growing pressure amid slowing economic growth, resurgent inflation, rampant corruption and banking turmoil.

The prime minister, a former central bank governor whose second five-year term was approved by the by communist-controlled parliament in July 2011, is said to have become the country's most powerful prime minister ever.

Seen as a moderniser when first appointed, Dung used his power to aggressively push for rapid economic growth, relying on state-owned giants to drive the economy.

But in recent months economic growth has slowed sharply, inflation has picked up again, foreign direct investment has plunged and fears about toxic debt in the fragile banking system have mounted.

The near collapse of scandal-tainted shipping behemoth Vinashin in 2010 put the spotlight on the financial troubles of state-owned giants. The arrest in August of a disgraced multi-millionaire banker seen as an ally of Dung shook investor confidence in the country and triggered a run on deposits.

One party official, who asked not to be named, expressed dissatisfaction that the committee had not gone further in rebuking senior figures over corruption.

"As in the past, the leaders of the Vietnam Communist Party want to wash themselves only to the shoulders, but not to the hair," he said, adding that the people would be "once again largely disappointed" by the party leadership.

Authorities have sought to crack down on bloggers with a series of harsh jail sentences as the scandals stoked more and more Internet discussion. But online political blogs remain a hugely popular news source in the heavily censored country.

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