Vietnam calls on Washington to lift Cuba embargo - foreign ministry

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People hold Cuba's national flag during protests against and in support of the government, in Havana

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam urged the United States on Friday to end its "hostile policy" and lift its longstanding trade embargo on Cuba, the foreign ministry said, following this week's rare anti-government protests on the island.

"The U.S. needs to take concrete steps in the direction of normalizing relations with Cuba for the benefit of the two peoples, contributing to peace, stability and development in the region and the world," ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement.

Thousands of Cubans staged the biggest anti-government protests in decades on Sunday, demonstrating against an economic crisis and the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and curbs on civil liberties.

Vietnam and Cuba are among the last five Communist-ruled countries in the world, along with China, Laos and North Korea. Washington has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s, which authorities in Havana blame for some of the country's economic problems.

The United States lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam in 1994, and relations between former foes have warmed in recent years. The United States is now Vietnam's largest export market.

Hang said Vietnam "believes that Cuba will overcome the current socio-economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of the embargo".

(Editing by Frances Kerry)

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