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The BBC's Lucy Hockings
"Pham Van Dong, one of the giants of Vietnams struggle for independence"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 05:29 GMT 06:29 UK
Vietnam legend dies
Pham Van Dong
A 1998 picture of Dong attending a state funeral
One of the giants of Vietnam's struggle for independence, Pham Van Dong, has died at the age of 94.

Communist party officials said Dong, prime minister for more than 30 years, died on Saturday, the day before the country celebrated the 25th anniversary of the North's final victory in the Vietnam War.

The announcement of his death may have been held back to avoid overshadowing the celebrations over the weekend.

A state funeral is expected to be held later this week.

Dong ranked in stature alongside military legend General Vo Nguyen Giap, and was considered close to Vietnam's late revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

He was the public face of the Communist North throughout the Vietnam War, relying on his diplomatic skills to further Hanoi's cause.

Jailed

Like many of Vietnam's leaders, Dong earned his revolutionary credentials through imprisonment at the hands of the French colonial authorities in Indochina during the 1930s.

But he rose to prominence in 1954 when he was a communist negotiator in the Geneva Conference that marked the end of French colonial rule and sowed the seeds for the Vietnam War with the division of the country into two halves.

After his return to Hanoi he was made prime minister, a post he occupied through Vietnam's reunification in 1975. He finally stepped down in June 1987.



Kissinger considered Dong "wily and insolent"
The former prime minister was an uncompromising proponent of national reunification who even as the North was being carpeted by American bombs confidently predicted victory for Hanoi because it would always outlast the United States.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described him as "wily and insolent".

Later, Dong admitted that "mistakes were made" after 1975, when the country suffered from what he called "subjectivity and leftism" - Marxist terminology for the leadership's determined push for socialism that left Vietnam bankrupt and dependent on the Soviet Union.

Power behind the scenes

He stepped down from the Politburo in 1986, a year when many of the old guard were swept out and Vietnam began a process of partial market reforms.

Almost blind by the end of the 1980s, Dong kept a semi-official post as an adviser until December 1997, wielding considerable clout.

He was an implacable critic of the inequalities and corruption that accompanied reforms.

As with Ho Chi Minh, some analysts debated whether Dong was at heart a true communist, or a nationalist who was sucked into the collective socialist system he helped to create.

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See also:

02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Death of a revolutionary
29 Apr 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Return to Saigon
28 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam to free over 12,000 prisoners
29 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Canada berates Vietnam over execution
30 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Celebrating reunification
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