Vietnam's hardline president laid to rest

HANOI, Vietnam (UPDATED) – Vietnamese president Tran Dai Quang, a lifelong communist stalwart with a reputation as a hardliner, was buried in his home village Thursday, September 27, in a ceremony blessed by monks, as relatives and leaders bid him a final farewell.

Quang died on Friday aged 61 after a prolonged illness that officials described only as a "rare virus".

A long-serving communist apparatchik and former national police chief, Quang was celebrated by peers for his dedication to the country that he spent much of his career serving.

But his legacy is a checkered one, and he will be remembered by some as a tough leader with little tolerance for dissent, even during his two years as president which saw a brutal crackdown on activists in the one-party state.

Though he was a member of the powerful politburo, his public role as president was largely ceremonial and his death is not expected to shake up politics in a country where the communist party yields enormous power.

His comrades remembered him fondly at the ceremony in his home province of Ninh Binh, south of Hanoi.

"We gather here at his birthplace, where he will take his final rest. May he rest in peace," Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh said.

Quang's wife wept as his red coffin, emblazoned with Vietnam's national logo, was lowered into the ground by about 20 soldiers in crisp white uniforms.

She was held by her son, who earlier praised his father for his lifelong dedication to the country.

"My father's wish was to spend his whole life contributing to the nation and revolutionary cause," Tran Quan said at an emotional memorial.

Golden-robed monks offered blessings with gong chimes at the burial ceremony, while relatives and officials threw soil onto his coffin in line with Vietnamese tradition.

Thousands of people lined the rain-slicked streets of Ninh Binh to greet Quang's passing coffin, including a group of school children who held a banner offering their "deepest condolences".

Courted controversy

This is the first major state funeral since the death of General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2013, a beloved war hero and revolutionary leader who drew massive crowds to the streets when he died at age 102.

But Quang was less of a galvanising force and most Vietnamese feel little connection to the government he spent his life serving.

He spent more than 40 years climbing the security apparatus before taking the helm of the shadowy Ministry of Public Security in 2011.

His long dedication to the notorious institution instilled rancor among the rights community at home.

As president since 2016 – officially the head-of-state – Quang backed a clampdown on dissenting voices that has seen dozens of critics jailed in the past two years, and his reputation as a tough leader has resonated at home and abroad since his passing.

By contrast, he was praised by the country's security forces, many of whom lined the streets Thursday to salute his passing funeral procession.

But even in death he has courted controversy.

Social media was abuzz this week after news emerged that his spacious burial site on his family's plot of land – and the roads leading to it – were built in just a matter of days.

Some commenters online said they wished roads all over the country could always be paved that fast.

Officials said 50,000 people paid their respects throughout the country in the two days of national mourning on Wednesday and Thursday, during which all entertainment venues were shut. –