During his meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday morning, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said his country would spare the lives of Sydney woman Jasmine Luong and NSW man Tony Manh.

"Building upon the excellent friendship between our two countries and on humanitarian grounds, I have informed that the Vietnamese president has decided to grant clemency to two Vietnamese-Australians charged with drug trafficking," he told reporters.

Earlier this year, Luong was ordered to face the firing squad in Vietnam, after an appeals court upgraded her life jail term for heroin trafficking.

An Australian of Vietnamese descent, she was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City's international airport as she tried to board a flight to Australia on February 13 last year.

Customs officials said they found the heroin in her shoes and luggage.

Manh was arrested in March last year with the heroin hidden on his body as he was about to board a flight to Sydney.

Officials had been concerned his guilty plea could complicate his efforts to have his death sentence commuted to life.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Prime Minister was met by a vocal crowd of demonstrators in Canberra on Monday.

About 300 protesters, waving both Australian flags and flags of the former South Vietnamese regime, called on Mr Nguyen to release prisoners of conscience and to restore human rights and democracy.

"VC go home," some chanted.

Other protest banners called him a criminal and murderer.

The protesters travelled to Canberra from Victoria, NSW and Queensland to object to Mr Nguyen's socialist regime, which they claim continues to commit human rights violations and prevents many Vietnamese from having basic freedoms, such as practising their religion and land ownership.

Mr Nguyen was accorded the official welcome of a head of government with a 19-gun salute and parade by the federation Guard.

Trade is expected to be the focus of Mr Nguyen's discussions in Australia.

Bilateral trade between Australian and Vietnam has grown at an average of 20 per cent per year during the past five years, Mr Rudd said on Sunday.

Australia is Vietnam's 16th largest investor and the Vietnamese economy holds many opportunities for Australian business, he said.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Rudd will host a private dinner for Mr Nguyen.

Australian Associated Press - October 13, 2008


Vietnam grants clemency to Australian drug runners

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Vietnam will grant clemency to two Australians facing execution in Hanoi for drug smuggling, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said on Monday after talks with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd.

Dung, in Australia to mark 35 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, said Vietnam's President had agreed to clemency for the two Australians.

"Building upon the excellent friendship between our two countries and on humanitarian grounds, I have informed that the Vietnamese president has decided to grant clemency to two Vietnamese-Australians charged with drug trafficking," he said.

Sydney woman Jasmine Luong was sentenced to death by firing squad earlier this year. She was arrested at Hanoi's international airport in February 2007 after customs officers found 1.55 kg (3.4 lb) of heroin hidden in her shoes and luggage.

Another Australian, Nguyen Hong Viet, was sentenced to death in September 2007 after being arrested as he boarded a plane to Sydney with nearly 950 grams of heroin concealed in his clothes.

Australia strongly opposes the death penalty. But under Vietnam's tough anti-drug laws, trafficking more than 600 grams of heroin is punishable by death or life in prison.

Australia's Vietnamese community numbers about 250,000, with a further 10,000 Vietnamese students in Australia and about 10,000 students in Vietnam doing courses run by Australian schools and universities.

Reuters - October 13, 2008