HANOI: Hundreds of black-clad mourners, weeping or lighting incense and laying wreaths, gathered Wednesday at a state funeral for Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang who died last week after a prolonged illness.
Long lines of officials, police, relatives and monks in golden robes streamed through the National Funeral House in central Hanoi, where Quang’s flag-draped coffin lay beneath a large portrait of the leader who passed away at age 61 on Friday.
Quang, a member of the ruling Communist Party’s powerful politburo, spent more than four decades climbing the ranks of the security apparatus until he became president in 2016.
The presidency is a mostly ceremonial role and his passing is unlikely to dramatically disrupt politics in the one-party state, to which the lifelong communist stalwart and former police chief dedicated most of his career.
Quang was praised for his loyalty and patriotism at his funeral Wednesday. His black-clad family, wearing white headbands, greeted mourners passing the coffin which was flanked by massive arrangements of yellow flowers.
“He devoted his entire life and made numerous contributions to national revolutionary causes… his passing is a huge loss to our party, state and people,” said Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh.
The country’s top party officials led tributes with large red, yellow and white floral wreaths, including Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who lit incense and bowed before the coffin.
Several foreign officials also paid respects, including Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who had known Quang since they fought together in the bush as the Vietnamese led the drive to topple the Khmer Rouge.
Quang’s tearful deputy Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh — now acting president, the first woman in the job — offered an emotional farewell for a man who often appeared stiff in public.
“It’s hard to believe that you will be gone for real and forever. I hope you have a peaceful sleep in the eternal world,” she wrote in the condolence book.
Officials said Quang died of a “rare virus” and had sought treatment for more than a year in Japan.
He had appeared thin and wan in recent weeks, though he continued to work right to the end of his life, hosting a public event two days before his death.
“I don’t understand why he had been working until almost the very last day… If he was an ordinary person, he would have a chance to rest and enjoy his last minutes,” a local resident, who gave the name Nga, told AFP outside the funeral house.
Quang, the head of the shadowy Minister of Public Security for five years before he became president, had a reputation as a hardline leader both at home and abroad.
He was seen as tough on dissent and drew criticism for overseeing a crackdown on activists and bloggers since he became president in 2016.
He also backed a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has seen dozens of former and current officials and executives jailed in the past two years.
Quang’s death divided opinion in the country, where some scorned his role in the crackdown.
“He chose to attach his name to one of the country’s darkest chapters,” activist Trinh Huu Long said on Facebook.
Quang will be buried in his home town in Ninh Binh province on Thursday, ending two days of national mourning during which entertainment venues will be closed. —AFP