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Microsoft's Gates Takes High-Tech to Vietnam

Gates gets rockstar-like treatment as thousands come out to greet him during his visit to give Vietnamese high-tech efforts a boost.

(Hanoi, Vietnam) -- Thousands of cheering Vietnamese students welcomed Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Saturday with raucous adulation normally reserved for rock stars.

The excitement that greeted Gates during his first visit to Vietnam reflects the communist country's eagerness to follow the route of high-tech meccas like India and its belief that he can help pave the way.

"I've been waiting for Bill Gates to come to Vietnam for a long time," said Le Tuan Anh, 21, a second-year computer engineering student who clutched a copy of Saigon Entrepreneur magazine that profiled Gates on its cover. "Hopefully this will boost IT development in Vietnam."

Gates, whose visit comes as Vietnam seeks to carve a niche for itself in the high-tech world, said the country has the potential to become one of the Asian "miracle" economies by investing in its young people.

"The key element to allow IT to help the economy grow, and become an export sector itself, comes back to investment in education," he said during a speech at the close of his whirlwind, day-long tour. "Clearly I see that over the next decade Vietnam will join those miracles."

Earlier in the day, thousands of students, some of them perched in trees and others on balconies, lined up outside the auditorium at the Hanoi University of Technology to catch a glimpse of him as he came to make a speech on the future of technology.

His arrival sparked momentary pandemonium as the students swarmed his entourage, pushing against security barricades.

After a standing ovation, Gates told his audience with a world connected through the Internet, "someone's opportunity is not determined so much by geography but by the educational investment you make."

"I certainly encourage students to use the Internet as much as possible and learn about the global economy. Most of the opportunity for Vietnam is in the global economy," he said during an hour-long talk where he encouraged the country's leaders to consider not only manufacturing but software development and outsourcing.

His image projected on giant TV screens beside the podium, Gates later took questions from the young audience of about 1,000 inside the auditorium as well as thousands of others watching him on big screen outside.

Vietnam is keen to jump-start its high-tech sector, which got a big boost earlier this year when the world's largest chipmaker Intel Corp. announced plans to build a US$300 million (euro248 million) assembly plant in Ho Chi Minh City.

At the start of the day, Gates told Prime Minister Phan Van Khai that he sees "opportunity in Vietnam for talented people to have jobs in the IT sector."

The two men met a year ago when Khai toured the software giant's headquarters near Seattle during the leader's landmark visit to the United States and extended an invitation for Gates to visit Vietnam.

The country's fledgling high-tech industry is working to raise its profile even as Vietnam battles a reputation as one of the region's worst violators of intellectual property rights. It is one of the most prolific producers of pirated software in Asia, and copies of Microsoft operating systems sell on the street for a couple dollars.

Microsoft representatives later signed an agreement with the Ministry of Finance, making it the first government office in Vietnam with licensed Microsoft software installed.

In the afternoon, Gates met with members of the Vietnamese high tech community before touring neighboring Bac Ninh province to talk about how information technology is being applied in rural areas.

In Tam Son commune outside of Hanoi, he launched the 'One Click Project' aimed at providing low-cost computers with stripped down versions of Microsoft programs and Internet connection in a bid to make technology accessible.

Microsoft is also working to put a community technology center into each of Vietnam's 64 provinces, with technology training and free Internet use for one year.

Gates vowed that he "will stay involved as we consider how to raise our investment to the next level."

"I have a very strong optimism, not just about our activities here, but about all the new developments taking place in the country," he said.

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