Thousands pay respects to Vietnam’s revered General Giap

HANOI, Oct 06, 2013 (AFP) - Thousands of mourners gathered outside the Hanoi house of Vietnam's revered General Vo Nguyen Giap on Sunday to pay their last respects to the wildly-popular independence hero following his death.

Well-wishers carrying bunches of yellow flowers and packets of incense queued for hours to enter the French colonial villa in the heart of the communist country's capital.

"I never saw this many people come to pay their respects after the death of (Vietnam's founding father) Ho Chi Minh in 1969," retired army colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, 72, told AFP.

"It is the first time the family of a Vietnamese top leader have opened their doors to the public to allow them to visit and pay their respects," he added.

Giap, second only to "Uncle Ho" as modern Vietnam's most revered figure, was lauded as a genius for guerrilla tactics that defeated both the French and United States armies.

His death on Friday aged 102 sparked an outpouring of condolence across the country's buzzing social networks.

But it was only after the authoritarian government officially acknowledged the death on Saturday and announced he would be given a national funeral on October 13, that crowds of mourners were able to gather at his home.

Many people - both young and old - emerged rubbing tear-streaked faces after offering their last respects at a family altar inside the house.

"Giap was loved by millions of people in Vietnam. Everyone could learn from him - he was a pure spirit, strongly patriotic," said army veteran Le An Thanh, 65.

"I came here to pay my last respects to a man I have admired for a very long time," Thanh, who fought in southern Laos from 1971 to 1976 during Vietnam's bloody war with America, said.

Young communist party volunteers and uniformed police helped manage the huge queue - at times six-deep, but always quiet and orderly - which snaked along the wide, tree-lined boulevards in Hanoi, just a short walk from the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.

Giap, a former history teacher, was the founding father of the Vietnam People's Army.

His body will be interred in his native Quang Binh province at the request of his family. He is survived by Dang Bich Ha, his wife since 1949, and four children.

State broadcaster VTV will broadcast the funeral live and a committee to organise the event has been set up with all Vietnam's top officials - including the Prime Minister, President and Communist Party Chief.

The nation's flags will fly at half-mast from October 11 to 13, to mark the official period of mourning.