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Protests Hitting Westminster in the Purse

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The anti-communist protests in Little Saigon, now in their second month and seemingly growing in size, are exacting a heavy economic toll on the city of Westminster and numerous Vietnamese businesses there that only recently emerged from a prolonged slump.

Westminster officials estimate that police and other costs related to the impassioned rallies, including sales and tax revenue losses, have already reached hundreds of thousands of dollars. Police overtime expenses alone have surpassed $100,000, said Westminster police Lt. Bill Lewis.

“It’s bleeding us to death,” said Mayor Frank Fry Jr.

While the protests have been mostly peaceful, the crowds have grown so large that Westminster has called for help from nearly every police agency in the county.

On Monday night, the largest gathering yet of about 10,000 Vietnamese converged on Bolsa Avenue to protest video store owner Truong Van Tran’s adamant display of tribute to communist Vietnam.

City officials have yet to add up the financial damage from the demonstrations, but it certainly will include loss of sales-tax revenue from Little Saigon merchants whose business has withered in recent days.

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“I don’t know how long I can hold on,” fretted Kinh Nguyen, 55, whose print shop has been hard hit because it sits a few doors away from Tran’s video store.

Protests have often punctuated life and commerce in politically sensitive Little Saigon--an area of more than 2,000 businesses catering to the country’s largest Vietnamese exile community. But the latest rancor comes at a particularly fragile time, when Little Saigon is showing signs of improving sales and is launching a concerted effort to increase awareness of the community and attract outside visitors.

“This will pull us backward,” said Dr. Co Pham, president of the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce.

Pham himself was the target of anti-communist protests in 1994 when he organized a trade delegation to Vietnam after the U.S. lifted economic sanctions against that country.

Pham said he did not think the latest upheaval would cause irreparable harm to Little Saigon’s image, as some fear.

“In the U.S., we forgive and forget very quickly,” he said. “But in the short run, it will bring down our economy.”


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