A week after granting permission for a large Christian gathering in Ho Chi Minh City, authorities in Vietnam reneged on a verbal promise to allow a much-anticipated public Easter celebrations in Hanoi.

An interchurch organizing committee had submitted a request for permission well in advance and had made elaborate preparations for the special events featuring renowned evangelist Luis Palau Friday and Saturday (April 15-16).

The organizers said they were disappointed but not entirely surprised by the Communist government's action.

"The authorities have clearly demonstrated to the world what we experience regularly—that their promises, whether verbal or written, cannot be trusted," said one church leader who requested anonymity.

Asked to speculate on the reasons for the government's ultimate refusal, another key church leader said, "I don't know why, but it almost seems as if the government is deliberately damaging its own reputation."

Shortly after 1 p.m. on Friday (April 15), after long negotiations, authorities gave verbal assent for the events to proceed, promising the required written permission would be issued imminently. The government-approved venue was the Dien Kinh My Dinh Sports Complex, a state-of-the-art indoor track and field stadium in Hanoi's Tu Liem district. It reportedly holds 3,100 people; organizers had requested a place with considerably larger capacity.

After receiving the verbal promise, organizers said they went directly to the sports complex hoping to begin preparing the sound and lighting systems. They were not given access.

When no written permission was forthcoming by the scheduled start at 7 p.m., organizers said they were forced to turn away many hundreds of people arriving from the provinces ...

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