Vietnam holds state funeral for General Vo Nguyen Giap

Crowds gathered in Hanoi to pay their respects

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An elaborate, two-day state funeral is under way in Vietnam for General Vo Nguyen Giap, the commander credited with overseeing the defeat of French and US forces in his country.

He died a week ago at the age of 102.

Hundreds of thousands of people have paid their respects to General Giap in Hanoi, where he is lying in state, and at military centres across Vietnam.

On Sunday, a grand procession will escort the general's body to his home town in Quang Binh province for burial.

Analysis

The lines of people waiting outside the state funeral hall just went on and on, throughout the day, and into the evening. Tens of thousands waiting quietly for the crisply-uniformed guards to usher them in to pay their respects to the draped coffin inside.

Most moving were the elderly veterans, their chests tinkling with the medals won during the long war against the Americans. Stooped, leaning on sticks, or unable to walk at all, they were helped in by blue-shirted young volunteers mobilised by the government for the occasion.

But just as striking was the number of young people. I saw one couple, wearing black bandanas carrying the words, "We Miss You General Giap". They could not have been older than 30 - the same number of years since he was last in any position of power. They certainly did not experience the war.

General Giap's most famous victories are far back in the past. He lost many battles too, but understood the power of national pride in an old civilisation humiliated by colonialism - that people would endure colossal sacrifices for the goal of independence. The outpouring of emotion for this ruthless, idealistic general is in many ways driven by nostalgia for the values of that simpler age of heroic struggle, so unlike today's Vietnam.

A photograph of Gen Giap and a gilt frame containing his military medals were placed above the coffin which was draped in the national flag at the National Funeral Hall in Hanoi.

Soldiers in white uniforms stood to attention as officials, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Truong Tan Sang, paid their last respects.

Gen Giap's family, wearing black, stood nearby while thick clouds of incense filled the room where his body lay in state.

On Friday, the Vietnamese flag outside Hanoi's Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was lowered to half-mast to mark the start of the official mourning period.

BBC South East Asia Correspondent Jonathan Head says the general's death has prompted an extraordinary outpouring of emotion, in a population whose freedom of expression is tightly restricted.

The son of a rice grower, Vo Nguyen Giap became active in politics in the late 1920s and worked as a journalist before joining Ho Chi Minh's Indochinese Communist Party.

In 1930 he was briefly jailed for leading anti-French protests but later earned a law degree from Hanoi University.

Profile: General Giap

Picture of Gen Vo Nguyen Giap
  • Son of a rice grower, Vo Nguyen Giap joined a clandestine nationalist movement at the age of 14
  • He founded the Viet Minh, dedicated to ending French colonial rule
  • Gen Giap led the battle against French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954
  • He was North Vietnam's defence minister when the Tet Offensive took place against US forces in 1968, although he was not directly involved in the operation.

He helped Ho Chi Minh found the Viet Minh and his defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 effectively ended French colonial rule in the region.

Gen Giap was North Vietnam's defence minister at the time of the Tet Offensive against US forces in 1968, often cited as a key campaign that led to the Americans' withdrawal.

It has been more than 30 years since Gen Giap held any position of power within the Vietnamese Communist Party.

However, our correspondent says he has always been held up as a revolutionary hero by the party leadership, and they are giving him a hero's send off.

The Communist Party would like Gen Giap's death to remind the Vietnamese of its role in fighting for national liberation, he adds, but it will also bring home to many just how far a party tainted by corruption and nepotism has fallen from the ideals it once espoused.

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