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Net service awaits Vietnam online

A news and information site dubbed Vietnam Online launches as the country prepares to allow unfettered access to the Internet.

As Vietnam prepares to allow unfettered access to the Internet next month, online companies already are pitching services targeted at the country's new surfers.

Today marked the launch of a news and information site produced in Hanoi and hosted in Hong Kong, dubbed Vietnam Online.

Visitors can search business, travel, culture, and tourism sections, as well as classified ads and local events. The site is like any other "city guide" produced in the United States, including white page listings of Vietnamese companies, hotels, and government offices.

People who give up personal data such as their name, company, email address, and phone number can also gain access to the Vietnam Investment Review newspaper and to searchable databases of the country's laws, foreign investment projects, apartment rentals, and elected representatives' offices.

Vietnam Online's debut followed comments by the country's directorate general of post and telecommunications, Mai Liem Truc, to the Lao Dong newspaper Monday, saying that by mid-November there would be about 12,000 users of the global Internet in Vietnam. The communist government has barred open access because it feared the medium would bring subversive or other harmful material into the country.

Though popular access to the Internet has been long delayed, a domestic intranet--which provides delayed email access to the Net--has been available for some time.

Reuters contributed to this report.