Poked by the Politburo?

Authoritarian regimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the internet. Vietnam is leaning toward love. State-owned Vietnam Multimedia Report recently launched a trial version of, an answer to Facebook -- which is banned in Vietnam -- that lets users build profiles, post photos, send messages, share music, add friends, and catch the news. The full version should launch later this year.

One user you can't defriend? The government. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The catch is that users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site. Security services monitor websites in Vietnam, whose authoritarian, one-party dictatorship treats dissidents ruthlessly.

The site marks a shift in tactics for Hanoi's Politburo members, who have more typically shut  dissident bloggers and tried blocking Facebook Inc.'s flagship site to stop subversive thoughts from spreading online.

Think Facebook has privacy issues?

According to the Journal, Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop, believes the site is both a "trustworthy" alternative to foreign sites and one ripe with "culture, values, and benefits" for Vietnam's teenagers. When early articles about Ho Chi Minh didn't go viral, Vietnam Multimedia's online unit added English tests and state-approved videogames, including, according to the Journal, "a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Hop predicts about half of the Vietnamese population will sign up over the next five years.

Apparently, the Vietnamese aren't impressed:

Some Vietnamese have figured out how to skirt the Facebook ban by using proxy servers or tinkering with their computer settings. Others have launched online campaigns to boycott local Web sites such as despite its ongoing makeover. "Make 'go' go away," one person wrote in an online message.

Many Vietnamese shrug when queried about "I didn't even know it existed," says Pham Thanh Cong, a fourth-year physics student at Hanoi Polytechnic as he waits his turn to play an online shoot-'em-up game at a street-side Internet café.



Lebanon heats up, and Mehlis hits back

All eyes in the Middle East are on Iran, but it may be Lebanon that is closer to war. On Sunday, the former head of Lebanese General Security, Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, announced that he had been informed by his lawyer that a Damascus court had issued arrest warrants for 33 figures for misleading the international tribunal charged with bringing the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. One of those individuals was a former chief investigator of the U.N.-led investigation itself, Detlev Mehlis. But in comments to Foreign Policy, Mehlis poured cold water over the truth of Sayyed's claims, and suggested that he has no intention of backing down from his work in Lebanon.

Sayyed has a particular axe to grind in this case: He was imprisoned for over four years on suspicion of being involved in Hariri's killing. And the man partially responsible for putting him behind bars was none other than Mehlis, who asked Lebanese authorities to arrest him along with three other pro-Syrian generals.

"I should mention that I am not aware of any investigation against myself and members of my previous UNIIIC-team anywhere in the world," Mehlis said. "I realize that Mr. Sayyed has brought up the story of an arrest warrant, just as he brought up the story of a French arrest warrant a year ago, and I do not believe a word of what he is saying. "

The Syrian government has so far yet to confirm whether an arrest warrant has been issued. But even if one has, Mehlis left little doubt about the opinion of such a document. "If indeed there is a Syrian arrest warrant, it would be baseless, illegal, and politically motivated, without any practical implications," he said.

As the showdown over the tribunal heats up, Mehlis's work has been fiercely attacked by the court's critics in an attempt to discredit the entire enterprise. As Syria and Hezbollah attempt to use their increased leverage within Lebanon to scuttle the court entirely, there is no doubt that such condemnations will continue. The only real question is whether anyone will speak out against them.