HANOI - Vietnam is preparing to honour its last great communist icon with a lavish state funeral after a week of remarkable public mourning that has seen tens of thousands queue to pay their last respects.
From octogenarian war veterans to crocodiles of school children, Vietnamese have formed huge lines outside the Hanoi home of General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died aged 102 a week ago.
Two days of official mourning for Giap, who was second only to revered founding president Ho Chi Minh in the affections of the communist nation, start midday Friday, when all flags will be lowered to half mast.
The commemorations come as the heavily-censored one-party state tries to seize Giap's legacy as a symbol of its own legitimacy, promoting his image as a communist hero while downplaying the general's later activities as a persistent government critic.
He will lie in state in Hanoi on Saturday, before being buried Sunday in his native Quang Binh province, central Vietnam, in a state funeral attended by the country's top political figures.
Concerts have been cancelled, national parks closed, and normal state television broadcasts suspended in favour of patriotic music and documentaries for the national mourning period.
Presenters on state television have been wearing sombre-coloured suits and the national under-19 football team wore black armbands to an international tournament this week.
"He was old. We all knew this day would come. But I still feel so sad," 18-year-old architecture student Bui Cong Giap - no relation - told AFP, adding he had taken the day off and queued for three hours to pay his final respects to the independence hero.
Since his death, officials estimate more than 100,000 people have queued for hours outside Giap's French colonial villa in downtown Hanoi, waiting to leave flowers and incense at his family altar.
In the authoritarian country, where public demonstrations are routinely broken up by police and anniversary events are heavily stage-managed, the emotional scenes defy expectations.
"We thought people would turn up but we could never have imagined there would be this many," lieutenant colonel Le Van Hai, who is part of Giap's funeral organising team, told state media.
"Even when visiting hours are over, people still don't want to leave."