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Vietnam media: US diplomat shoved local official

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HANOI, Vietnam >> Vietnam’s state-controlled media accused an American diplomat Friday of creating a public disturbance during an incident in which he was reportedly roughed up by Vietnamese police for attempting to visit a prominent dissident.

The U.S. has filed a strong protest over the incident Wednesday in the central city of Hue, calling it a matter of grave concern.

The Thanh Nien newspaper, one of Vietnam’s most popular, quoted unidentified witnesses as saying U.S. Embassy political officer Christian Marchant shouted curses in English and Vietnamese, shoved a local official and punched another person in the face.

A U.S. official in Washington said Marchant was attempting to visit Catholic priest Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a pro-democracy dissident, when he was roughed up and a car door was repeatedly slammed on his legs.

U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia reported that Marchant was wrestled to the ground, put into a police car and driven away.

The Thanh Nien report did not mention Ly, 63, one of Vietnam’s best-known dissidents who is under house arrest in Hue. It said a provincial official “gently advised” Marchant to leave, but that he replied he was a diplomat and could go anywhere and meet with anyone.

The report said Marchant was invited to a provincial office where he was advised of Vietnam’s laws and that he appeared uncooperative and left.

A call to police in Thua Thien Hue province went unanswered.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi would not describe the incident. Ambassador Michael Michalak said Thursday that the U.S. had lodged a strong protest with the Vietnamese government and that foreign diplomats are protected under international law.

The State Department summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to Washington to protest the incident, according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Thursday that the government is reviewing the incident.

Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 on charges of trying to undermine Vietnam’s Communist government. He is now under house arrest after being given a one-year medical probation after suffering strokes and developing a brain tumor.

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