Vietnam state funeral for general

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 gathered outside General Giap’s home in Hanoi and in military barracks all over the country to pay their respects.

On Sunday, a grand procession will escort the general’s body to his home town south of Hanoi for burial.

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.

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Profile: General 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.

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.

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.