Poster Protest In Little Saigon

A Vietnamese shopkeeper who won the right to display a poster of Ho Chi Minh in his store window in California faced hundreds of angry protesters and landed in the hospital after being struck in the face.

Dave Lopez of CBS Station KCBS in Los Angeles reports that the decision came despite vocal and sometimes violent protests. Members of the Vietnamese community compare the action to displaying a poster of Hitler in a Jewish neighborhood.

Truong Van Tran's wall-sized poster of the late communist leader outraged many in Little Saigon, home to 200,000 Vietnamese-Americans. Some fled South Vietnam in 1975 after it fell to communist North Vietnam, and others left nearly a decade later when they were freed from prison camps.

An Orange County court on Wednesday held that Tran, 37, could display the poster.

"Mr. Tran's display is undisputedly offensive and engenders hatred," said Judge Barbara Tam Nomoto Schumann. "However, these symbols are part of political speech which Mr. Tran has a right to express even if the context of that expression is offensive."

Tran was on his way to re-hang the display when he was struck by a protester outside his Hi Tek video store. He fell to the ground and was taken to a hospital, where he complained of chest pain and remained overnight for observation.

It was the second time Tran was attacked during a protest over his display. On Jan. 18, he was struck on the head but not seriously injured. He declined to file a complaint.

For a week after Tran first put up the poster, hundreds of protesters picketed the store, the mall's landlord sent him an eviction notice, and the store was shut down.

The owner of the mall took the case to court and Schumann issued a temporary restraining order, making Tran remove the sign. He and the American Civil Liberties Union requested another hearing.

Tran, who arrived in the United States in 1980, told television crews earlier in the day that he is not a communist and does not support the communist leadership in Vietnam.

"Communists killed my brother," Tran told KCBS-TV.

He held a small sign reading, "Nothing is more precious than liberty," and said he wanted to use the poster to open a dialogue about what's happening in Vietnam.

Tran had previously told police he displayed the poster because he wanted to antagonize neighboring businesses, said Lt. Mike Schlisky said.

Hundreds of demonstrators crammed the hallway outside the courtroom Wednesday, and several waited for Tran at his store.

"I lost my country and I lost my family because of this regime. I don't want any symbolism of communism in Little Saigon," said Bich Nguien. "He has a right to freedom of speech, but he can't take advantage of the refugee community."

Stuart Parker, an attorney for the Vietnam Community of Southern California, said the judge's decision was wrong.

"Here i a clear and present danger to the community," Parker said. "I see it as a victory for inflammatory speech."

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. AP contributed to this report