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The BBC's Matt Frei in Ho Chi Minh city
"He could not resist the crowds... and they could not resist him"
 real 56k

The BBC's Owen Bennet-Jones in Hanoi
"Americans have described the visit as a huge success"
 real 56k

Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 17:42 GMT
Clinton rounds off Vietnam 'success'
President Clinton with Vietnamese flag in background
President Clinton was given an enthusiastic welcome

By Vietnam correspondent Owen Bennet-Jones

President Clinton completed his three-day visit to Vietnam with a walkabout in Ho Chi Minh City.

It was like a festival

Formerly Saigon, this was the city which the US had to evacuate as the Vietnam War came to a close 25 years ago.

He was surrounded by an enthusiastic and noisy crowd of well wishers.

"It was like a festival," one eyewitness said. "Everyone was applauding him and trying to get his autograph."

US officials are hailing Mr Clinton's visit as the culmination of his policy of normalising relations with Vietnam.

Pete Peterson, America's ambassador in Vietnam and a prisoner of war during the conflict, has described the trip as a "huge success".

Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary
Mr Clinton pledged to bring fallen heroes home
Vietnamese officials have been more tight-lipped and trenchant.

In one the few official statements released by the state controlled news agencies, the Communist Party leader Le Kha Phieu was reported as asking Mr Clinton why the United States had invaded Vietnam.

According to state radio he also took the chance "to introduce to Mr Clinton the unswerving socialist path that has been chosen by Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese people".

'Heroes' honoured

Despite his opposition to the Vietnam War, Mr Clinton went to great lengths to honour those Americans who died in the conflict.

Mr Clinton with excavated remains of a US serviceman's plane
In a muddy rice paddy near Hanoi he toured an excavation site where the US military are trying to find the remains of a bomber pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Evert.

He was shot down as he tried to destroy a railway bridge in 1967 - his last radio transmission said "I'm hit hard".

The late pilot's two sons accompanied the President.

One of them described how, as boys, they used to think their father was alive. The two boys dreamt of rescuing him.

"When we were about six and eight we used to talk about how we could come to Vietnam and get him out of jail.... We kind of feel that is what we are doing now."

Military honours

On Saturday evening President Clinton officiated at a ceremony in which the remains of three other servicemen listed missing in action were repatriated to the United States.

Three coffins draped in the stars and stripes were loaded with full military honours on board a plane for the Untied States.

President Clinton and Ambassador Peterson held their hands to their hearts as the silent ceremony took place on the tarmac of Hanoi's international airport.

Human rights

President Clinton was expected to raise the issue of human rights - and he did.

He told an audience of University students that it was Americans experience that the right to religious worship and to political dissent was no threat to stability.

Mr Clinton didn't press the point. "You have already shown the world that Vietnam takes its own decisions," he said.

Despite that Vietnamese leaders gave a firm response. "We should not interfere in each others internal affairs," said President Tran Duc Luong.

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See also:

17 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Clinton's Vietnam visit
17 Nov 00 | Media reports
Vietnam looks beyond war
14 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam denies suppressing religion
19 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Communist snub to Clinton
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