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WASHINGTON, Jan. 8-Following weeks of public protests in Hanoi, the Vietnamese government has announced that it will send inspection teams to 21 provinces to investigate allegations of corruption and land-grabbing by local officials, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Tuesday. "These high-level delegations must complete their work before the Lunar New Year (Feb.12)," Prime Minister Phan Van Khai's office said in a statement. Hanoi has experienced an unusual wave of demonstrations by farmers since November. Police and public security officials have stopped arresting the protesters, according to witnesses, and now simply keep a watchful eye on them instead. Complaints of corruption among rural officials have become widespread in recent years, as market-based reforms have widened economic disparities in the Vietnamese countryside. Tensions over land distribution in the country��s densely populated agricultural regions have sparked notable discontent. One protest drew some 200 people Friday in Hanoi. The demonstrators divided themselves into clearly identified delegations mainly from regions in the Mekong River Delta. Smaller groups indicated that they had come from central and northern Vietnamese provinces. Many carried placards detailing their specific complaints. On Dec. 18, police arrested 14 demonstrators, witnesses said. Officers arrived in four vans late in the evening after some 250 demonstrators gathered outside the government grievance office. Saying they had come to take them to a warm shelter, the police drove the protesters instead to Loc Ha and Dong Dau camps in Dong Anh, about 30 kms from downtown Hanoi, according to witnesses. Loc Ha and Dong Dau camps usually house the homeless and sex workers undergoing rehabilitation. Thirteen people from Ben Tre and one from Rach Gia-both in the Mekong River Delta-were arrested. The group from Ben Tre included Huynh Thi Nam, a woman in her 70s. Two of the detainees were freed two days later, while 12 remained in police custody for another two days. On Dec. 21, more than 400 people reportedly gathered outside the grievance department-the largest such turnout since the protests began Nov. 20. Groups of women farmers from southern Vietnam, 20 to 30 at a time, have staged highly visible demonstrations outside the National Assembly. These protests aim to press the government to return family farmlands allegedly seized by corrupt officials. Larger groups, sometimes growing up to 250 people, have meanwhile protested weekly since May outside the home of Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh. These demonstrations are said to support the government��s anti-corruption drive while lodging complaints about local officials in northern and central Vietnam. A different group of protesters-some in Thanh Tri District in the suburbs of Hanoi-have also demonstrated against plans by the city of Hanoi to take over a tract of centrally located land near the Hanoi cathedral and turn it into an entertainment park. Hanoi Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung has circulated a petition against the plan, with the backing of 46 Catholic priests in the Hanoi Archdiocese and neighboring provinces. RFA's complete coverage of the protests is available on the Web at Radio Free Asia (RFA) is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting news and information to listeners in those Asian countries where full, accurate, and timely news reports are unavailable. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA aims to deliver such news reports- along with opinions and commentaries- and to provide a forum for a variety of voices and opinions. RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest journalistic standards and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.

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