SEATTLE (AP) – Demonstrators gathered on downtown streets Sunday to protest the first visit of a Vietnamese prime minister to the United States since the end of the war 30 years ago, calling for Vietnam to improve its human rights record.

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai came to Seattle for the purchase of Boeing aircraft by the national airline and to meet with Microsoft executives, part of a weeklong tour that will take him to a White House meeting with President Bush.

Demonstrators shouted “Down with communists,” held signs that read “Khai is another Saddam Hussein” and called for an end to political and religious persecution in Vietnam.

Sai Nguyen, an organizer with the Vietnamese American Coalition in Northwest America, criticized the Communist Party’s push to open the Vietnamese economy to foreign investors, saying it would not improve the lives of the people.

“It is only to help the party,” he said.

On Saturday, demonstrators marched and carried U.S. and former South Vietnamese flags in the Little Saigon area of California’s Orange County, home of the nation’s largest Vietnamese community.

More than 1 million Vietnamese now live in the United States, including an estimated 130,000 in Orange County.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Hanoi, Khai said his visit “reflects that we have put the past behind us.”

“We’re hoping to further tap the potential for even better relations between the two countries based on respect and mutual interest,” Khai said.

The Seattle demonstrators hoped their presence would let Khai know that Vietnamese Americans want him to address human-rights abuses that continue in Vietnam, said Nhien Le, a former officer in the South Vietnamese Air Force.

“Compared with all the countries in southeast Asia, we are at the bottom. That’s why we fight for the freedom,” Le said.

Minh Vuong, a representative of the Vietnam Reform Party, called on Khai to free religious and political prisoners and to end the black-market trade of sex-workers in southeast Asia.

The rally also was intended to remember those who died attempting to flee Vietnam after the war, said Vuong, who escaped by boat and came to the United States in 1981.

Khai, 71, arrived Sunday morning and stopped first at Boeing’s plant in Renton, south of Seattle, to oversee the purchase of four 787 airliners by Vietnam Airlines. On Monday, he is to visit Microsoft’s Redmond campus, a company spokeswoman said Friday. Microsoft has an office in Vietnam.

Besides meeting Bush and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Khai is scheduled to visit the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the 10 years since diplomatic ties were restored, the United States has become Vietnam’s top trading partner. U.S. investment in Vietnam has risen 27 percent each year since a bilateral trade agreement took effect in 2001. The two-way trade was worth $6.4 billion last year.

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