Monday, May 02, 2005

Vietnam marks 30 years since war's end


Vietnam marks 30 years since war's end

By Steve Komarow, USA TODAY

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Fireworks, a parade, musical shows and the country's first laser light display marked the 30th anniversay Saturday of the fall of this city, the former Saigon, to the North Vietnamese army.

But the celebration was light on dogma from the Communist dictatorship and instead focused on economic prosperity. To further fuel strong industrial growth, its leaders say they are ready to strengthen ties with the United States and other countries that once fought to preserve South Vietnam as a separate, Western-leaning country.

( Related: More on the fall of Saigon )

Vietnam wants "to strengthen relations with countries that took part in the Vietnam War," said Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, in a speech Friday kicking off the celebrations.

A two-month North Vietnamese offensive culminated on April 30, 1975, when North Korean tanks crashed through the gates of South Vietnam's Presidential Palace. The end came amid a frantic American evacuation to ships offshore. The war cost the United States 58,000 lives. Many times that many Vietnamese were killed in the fighting.

Saturday's ceremonies were held on the road outside the palace, now a museum, where those tanks traveled 30 years earlier. Veterans of the Communist campaign were on hand to watch, beneath giant posters of Ho Chi Minh, their late leader. Marchers wore the red shirts with yellow stars of the Vietnam Communist regime and the honored guest was Raul Castro, brother of Cuba's dictator, Fidel Castrol.

"I was listening to the radio with my family and heard that Saigon had been liberated. I was very happy because for many years we weren't free. After 30 years we have rebuilt our country. Our land is safe and secure and I think the future will be better for my children," said To Thanh Nghia, 51, a government worker marching in the parade.

The focus on economic growth, however, was reflected in many of the elaborately-decorated floats. They depicted industries and consumerism. Young women in matching blue outfits pushed shopping carts filled with goods. A giant replica of a Vietnam Airlines jet reflected the country's push for tourism and floats sponsored by banks sported the logos of Western credit cards.

Vietnam, an economic basket case for years after the war, has been actively courting outside investment in its industries, notably textiles and clothing. Last year's economic growth was 7.7%, one of the fasted in the world. The signs of new prosperity are most apparent in Ho Chi Minh City, where new glass-walled skyscrapers have transformed the skyline.

This summer will mark 10 years since the United States and Vietnam re-established diplomatic relations. The United States bought $5 billion in Vietnamese goods last year and American warships have visited its harbors.

Michael Marine, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, says he hopes for even closer ties between the two countries. But he says remaining obstacles include the Communist regime's continued repression of political debate.

"The government of Vietnam continues to be intolerant of political dissent and significantly restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly and association," Marine said in a speech at Texas Tech University in advance of the anniversary.

Contributing: Wire reports