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Nguyen Van Linh, architect of Tet offensive, Vietnam economy

Published Sep. 13, 2005

Nguyen Van Linh, the former Vietcong guerrilla who directed the 1968 Tet offensive and then revitalized Vietnam's economy as the nation's Communist Party leader, has died at age 82.

Mr. Linh, who had been ailing for several years, died Monday of liver cancer at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, the Foreign Ministry announced.

The Vietnamese government announced two days of mourning, with flags at half-staff throughout the nation and all entertainment programs halted on state television. A funeral was scheduled for Wednesday in Ho Chi Minh City, the former South Vietnamese capital that many of its residents still call Saigon.

For most Vietnamese, Mr. Linh will be remembered principally as the Communist Party general secretary who loosened the government's stranglehold on the economy.

With his appointment to the post in 1986, Mr. Linh, a pragmatist with political roots in southern Vietnam, pushed a program of economic renovation that introduced elements of a free market to Vietnam after almost four decades of disastrous state planning.

He permitted private enterprise and market prices, and farm collectives were largely dismantled. There was an explosion of private shops, restaurants and home building. He also eased Vietnam's international isolation with a more conciliatory foreign policy and sought to improve relations with both the United States and China.

To historians of the Vietnam War and of the U.S. presidency, he is more likely to be recalled as a central architect of the events of Jan. 31, 1968, when small units of Vietnamese communist commandos struck Saigon before dawn and laid siege to the U.S. Embassy there.

Even though it collapsed within days, the Tet offensive _ the assault began on the second day of Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year _ was the beginning of the end of South Vietnam and of U.S. involvement in the war.