Red cloth banners with single yellow stars decked city streets and boyish soldiers practiced goose-stepping down the same boulevard once trod by victorious communist troops as Vietnam prepared to celebrate today the 20th anniversary of its victory in the Vietnam War.
A parade with 30,000 participants - including decorated veterans, mini-skirted pompon girls and some of the country’s best athletes - was scheduled to pass the former U.S. Embassy, ending at the old Presidential Palace that was overrun on April 30, 1975, by troops in Soviet-made tanks.
But while the former city of Saigon was gussied up for a festive, gala affair, government leaders spent the week stressing reconciliation with the United States, whose defeat here ended in a helicopter evacuation from the embassy rooftop.
In Hanoi, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet asked Vietnamese to “shut out the past and look to the future to raise our national spirits, expand international relations and to work together with other countries for peace, cooperation and development.”
Indeed, in an era of new openness and economic reform within Vietnam, most people seemed to view the holiday weekend as a chance to stroll downtown or cruise on Honda motorcycles, not extol political ideology. Crews of police, some in riot gear, patrolled streets to maintain order.
The parade, while smaller than one 10 years ago that featured 50,000 people and military hardware, still was scheduled to stretch down treelined Le Duan Street.
The city was unwilling to disclose how much money it spent on the events.
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