News on 21 July 2016

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1) Vietnam museum says all paintings fake in high-profile exhibition

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts Tuesday (July 19) publicly apologized for failing to verify the authenticity of 17 paintings on display at an exhibition that have been confirmed as fake. A panel of famous artists and experts and officials found 15 of the paintings, supposedly the works of legendary artists such as Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Bui Xuan Phai, were copies. Two others were found to be works of other artists. At least one living artist, Thanh Chuong, has claimed one of the two paintings as his. All the paintings at the show are owned by Vu Xuan Chung, who claimed to have acquired them from Jean-Francois Hubert, a known expert on Vietnamese art and a former senior consultant for giant auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's. The "Paintings returned from the Europe" exhibition opened on July 10 and soon faced forgery accusations from local artists and experts. It was originally slated to end on July 21. Trinh Xuan Yen, deputy director of the museum, said it would keep all the paintings and ask relevant authorities to step in. Luong Xuan Doan, vice chairman of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, called the scandal "an insult to Vietnam's fine arts." "All local artists are outraged by the paintings which are bad and superficial copies. Anyone can see they are fake." Chuong, who said his work had been stolen and displayed at the exhibition under another artist's name, said the incident would at least help authorities crack down on the forgery of Vietnamese paintings that has been going on for many years. Many people, including officials, have been aware of the problem but had no evidence until now, he said.

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2) Ha Noi tightens tourism sector

Ha Noi’s Department of Tourism will ramp up surveillance of travel agencies and tour guides in the capital city to ensure a healthy and safe environment for tourists. The solution was suggested at a meeting held in Ha Noi to identify ways of managing the rocketing number of tourist arrivals, particularly those coming from China. The number of international tourists arriving in the city reached over 2 million in the first half of this year, an increase of 33 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to the city’s Department of Tourism. Chinese nationals accounted for the highest proportion of foreign tourists to Ha Noi, with 250,000 visitors, an increase of 111.2 per cent compared with last year’s figure. They were followed by South Korea, Thailand and France.

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3) Very few foreign visitors return to Vietnam: travel association

Very few first-time foreign visitors to Vietnam choose to come back, according to a travel association, with multiple causes attributed to the low return rate. The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) has said that of the 90 percent of foreign visitors to the Southeast Asian country who are first-timers, only six percent visit again. The Vietnamese tourist industry seems to focus mainly on ways to boost profit, leaving operational processes cumbersome, while at the same time, marketing campaigns remain limited. It is estimated that the annual marketing budget of Vietnamese tourism is around US$2 million. The primary focus remains on getting as many tourists as possible, without attending to the need to provide better services. According to a government resolution, Vietnam has extended its visa-waving initiative for citizens of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy until June 30, 2017. Since July 1, 2015, when it was initiated, the visa-free program has attracted more visitors from these countries, and it is expected that the program will continue to boost the local tourist industry. According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, there were 4.7 million foreign visitors during the first six months of 2016.

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4) France National Assembly votes to extend state of emergency

France’s National Assembly voted in the early hours of today (July 21) to extend the country’s state of emergency for six months following last week’s massacre in Nice. The state of emergency has been in place since the Paris attacks in November, and the extension would see the measures -- which give the police extra powers to carry out searches and place people under house arrest -- remain in place until the end of January 2017. It is the fourth time that parliament has proposed prolonging the state of emergency, and the move now needs to be approved by the Senate. President Francois Hollande had last Thursday (July 14) announced a plan to lift the emergency secuirty measures, but changed tack hours later after a truck driver ploughed through a crowd at Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, killing 84 people in an attack later claimed by the Islamic State group. Hollande’s Socialist government has been under heavy criticism from the right for its response to the slew of extremist attacks.

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5) On anniversary, U.S. and Cuba cite progress toward closer ties

Marking the one-year anniversary of the renewal of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties, the former Cold War foes said on Wednesday (July 20) they were working hard on further deepening their detente this year, as the clock ticks down on the Obama administration. Cuban and U.S. representatives will meet this week in Havana to sign a deal on fighting drug trafficking and hold further talks later this month in Washington on their countries' property claims against one another, a senior U.S. State Department official said. "Normalization is a long term process ... but we are making slow and steady progress," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters on a conference call. While much remains to be done, the neighbors have made historic progress in forging closer ties over the past year that both sides were at pains to underscore on Wednesday (July 20). They reopened embassies a year ago after more than five decades of estrangement and have since agreed on matters of common concern such as the resumption of direct mail service and U.S. commercial flights to Cuba.

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Cover by Lucy Nguyen/Thanh Nien

(All the above News Items have been sourced from: Reuters, ThanhNien News, Vietnam Net, Tuoitre News, Vietnam News, New York Times)

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