HANOI - Vietnam's top leaders gathered early Saturday to pay their last respects to independence hero General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died last week at 102, as his state funeral began in Hanoi.
Soldiers in white uniforms stood to attention as officials, including the prime minister and president, paid their last respects to Giap who was second only to late president Ho Chi Minh in the affections of the communist nation.
Lauded as a military genius for the guerrilla tactics that defeated both the French and American armies, the general is being honoured with two days of national mourning.
A photograph of Giap and a gilt frame containing military medals was placed above his coffin, which was draped in the national flag.
His family, wearing black, stood close by while thick clouds of incense filled the room where his body lay in state.
"The serious, respectful mood at the funeral today reflects the level of respect and sorrow we feel for the loss for the general," Lieutenant General Nguyen Quoc Thuoc told AFP at the funeral.
"His death has left an enormous sadness but it has also restarted the fire of patriotism for the Vietnamese," he added.
The commemorations come as the one-party state tries to capture Giap's legacy as a symbol of its own legitimacy, hailing him as a communist hero while downplaying the general's later reputation as a persistent government critic. Giap, a former history teacher turned military commander, led his troops to victory over France in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu - the battle that ended French involvement in Indochina - and played a key role in Vietnam's defeat of the United States in 1975.