Vietnam activists 'to form multi-party democracy'

Students in Vietnam There have been months of unusually lively debate over political reform

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A group of activists in Vietnam have expressed their intention to form a new political party to promote multi-party democracy in the communist country.

They include members of the Communist Party, which has a monopoly on political power under the constitution.

The move comes as officials have recently detained dozens of bloggers for dissent.

A court recently reduced the sentences of two activists accused of spreading anti-state propaganda.

In Vietnam, questioning the ruling party's monopoly on power is considered a serious crime.

Correspondents estimate that close to 38 activists, including bloggers, have been arrested for anti-state activities this year.

But the government has increasingly come under pressure from a number of bloggers over human rights issues and governance issues.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen (right) and computer technician Dinh Nguyen Kha at their trial in May The sentences of Nguyen Phuong Uyen (right) and Dinh Nguyen Kha were reduced on Friday

The activists include two prominent members of the Communist organisation Fatherland Front. They are planning to call their party the Democratic Socialist Party.

Their declaration follows months of unusually lively debate over the political system, after the ruling party asked for public feedback on its proposals for mild reform of the Soviet-style constitution, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in neighbouring Bangkok.

The new party is still just an idea, and even if it gets organised, it is hard to guess how much it will be allowed to do, or how long it will be allowed to exist, our correspondent adds.

Meanwhile, an appeals court in Long An province has reduced the sentences of two activists.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, was sentenced in May to a six-year sentence. But on Friday the court ordered that instead she should receive a suspended sentence of three years, meaning that she was immediately freed.

The sentence of the other activist, Dinh Nguyen Kha was reduced to four instead of eight years.

Both were arrested last year, with rights groups criticising their trials.

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