Ho Chi Minh City: Communist Vietnam marked the 35th anniversary of the end of its war on Friday with a dramatic re-enactment of the day North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the former Presidential Palace and ousted the US-backed South Vietnam government.
The celebration took place as signs of the emerging market economy are everywhere in the city once known as Saigon and communist banners now compete with corporate logos.
A crowd of 50,000, many waving red and gold communist flags, lined the parade route, which was adorned with a massive poster of Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnam`s revolution.
The proceedings brought back vivid memories for Do Thi Thanh Thuy, 49, who watched the tanks roll by her home on April 30, 1975, when she was a junior high student. She and her neighbours on the outskirts of the former Saigon ran into the streets to cheer.
"When I saw those tanks, I felt so happy," said Thuy, who carried a red and gold flag adorned with communism`s hammer and a sickle symbol. "The South had been liberated, the country was united, and the war was over."
The fall of Saigon marked the official end of the Vietnam War and the decade-long US campaign against communism in Southeast Asia. The conflict claimed some 58,000 American lives and an estimated three million Vietnamese.
The war left divisions that would take years to heal as many former South Vietnamese soldiers were sent to communist re-education camps and hundreds of thousands of their relatives fled the country.
Friday`s celebration featured patriotic songs, some of them put to a pulsing disco beat. And in the day`s re-enactment of the war`s end, everyone in the former Saigon greeted the troops with jubilation.
Most of those in attendance were war veterans, party cadres and others selected by local communist organisations. The area was sealed off from ordinary citizens due to security concerns and police carefully monitored the foreign media in attendance.
Leading the delegation of dignitaries in attendance was President Nguyen Minh Triet, who presented Ho Chi Minh City with the highest honour he can bestow, a Gold Star medal. Also in the crowd were leaders and dignitaries from Cuba, Russia, Cambodia and Laos.