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Shaken by protests by central Vietnam's farmers, the premier pledged Friday to fight corruption in local governments and warned of a growing gap between the urban rich and rural poor.

Addressing delegates at the opening session of the National Assembly, Premier Phan Van Khai also painted a gloomy picture for communist Vietnam's immediate economic future.

"The economy is still on the trend of development, but there are also signs of difficulties," Khai said.

Thousands of farmers in central Thai Binh province launched a revolt earlier this year over corruption and chronic poverty, which has persisted despite growing urban prosperity.

Many villagers said the protests -- some of which turned violent -- were triggered by exorbitant local taxes. In his address, Khai proposed a cap on local taxes to alleviate discontent in Thai Binh.

"There is a widening gap of rich and poor between the rural and urban areas," Khai told legislators. "Corruption, illegal business dealings and wastefulness are on the rise, and crime is also increasing."


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