Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called for stricter management of festivals organised around the country during the lunar new year festival period so that they do not become overly commercialised.

In an official letter sent to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the People's Committees of provinces and cities, the Prime Minister said the organisation of large-scale festivals was common throughout many localities, but there was a lack of awareness among organisers of the cultural significance of the festivals, a problem compounded by ignorant festival visitors.

Dung urged organisers to show more responsibility in deciding the scale of the events and programme content for the festivals. Invitations to guests from the Government to attend festivals needed to be approved by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, he said.

The Prime Minister also called for regular monitoring to prevent illegal price hikes of goods and services, and to curb superstitious practices including the burning of votive offerings and use of unofficial donation boxes.

The first months of the year typically sees many major festivals including the Huong Pagoda Festival in Hanoi 's My Duc District, the Yen Tu Festival in northern Quang Ninh Province , the Phu Day Festival in northern Nam Dinh Province and the Ba Chua Xu Festival in the Mekong Delta Province of An Giang.

The Prime Minister told the People's Committees of the host provinces that they should take measures to maintain order and security for the people and ensure that no fires, explosions or other untoward incidents took place.

Vu Xuan Thanh, chief inspector of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said that local authorities must focus on dividing traffic lanes for vehicles and pedestrians to avoid congestion and unexpected incidents during major festivals.

Thanh said the recent fatal stampede in Cambodia was a lesson for the management of large-scale festivals in Vietnam . More than 800 festivals take place in Vietnam each year, attracting thousands of international and domestic visitors every year.

People's Committee of cities and provinces would have to take the main responsibility for any violations, Thanh said.

In a related move, the Ministry of Health has required health departments and clinics in localities to assure food hygiene and safety of festival food stalls.

The ministry asked local health departments to guide food service providers to sign up to commitments on food safety while providing clean water, stalls and other equipment to ensure food safety.

Local health departments were asked to provide rubbish collection services to stall owners. Food sellers were requested to wear gloves while working during the festivals and street food vendors selling goods of unclear origin were banned.

Nguyen Viet Cuong, chief inspector of the Hanoi 's Department of Health, said that local authorities in areas where festivals would be organised must take responsibility of inspecting food safety.

Figures from the ministry showed that there were 132 cases of food poisoning nationwide, killing 41 and hospitalising more than 3,280 people./.