HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – U.S. Sen. John McCain, on a visit to Vietnam where he was held prisoner of war, urged the Hanoi government Tuesday to follow through on economic progress with political reforms and improvement in human rights.

“Along with economic development must come political development as well as increased respect for human rights” McCain told a news conference.

The U.S. State Department often criticizes Vietnam for lack of human rights, a charge the communist country denies.

Addressing students of the Diplomatic Academy in Hanoi, McCain praised Vietnam’s economic reforms initiated in the mid-1980s that have helped millions of people out of poverty.

“In reforming its economy and achieving some of the world’s highest sustained growth rates, the Vietnamese economy has become a model for developing countries across the globe,” McCain told the students.

Vietnam’s economy has grown an average 7 percent per year over the past decade, one of the highest growth rates in the world.

McCain said Vietnam now has a chance to extend its progress to political and social areas.

“This change – which includes expanding social freedoms, allowing greater freedom of expression, releasing all individuals imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views, improving human rights, and widening the scope for political activity – would be of historic magnitude,” he told the students.

McCain, accompanied by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong.

The Arizona senator and former presidential candidate also visited Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, where his A-4 plane was shot down while on a bombing run of the North Vietnamese capital in 1967.

On Wednesday he was scheduled to revisit the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison in central Hanoi where he was held captive for 5 1/2 years before being released in March 1973.

McCain arrived in Vietnam on Monday and was to travel to Beijing and Tokyo on the last leg of his Asia trip.

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