Laos celebrates 30 years of communism

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With the hammer and sickle fluttering from shop fronts and odes to the revolution blaring across the capital, Laos has geared up to celebrate 30 years of communism.

In what was arguably the final act of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese backed Pathet Lao communists who had overrun the landlocked Southeast nation formally created the Lao People's Democratic Republic on December 2, 1975.

For the nation's five million people, and in particular its present rulers, the date marks the start of a golden era of stability after the trials of French colonialism in the first half of the 20th century and the horrors of the Vietnam War in the second.

Despite official low key celebrations, the military chose the run-up to the anniversary to open the Lao People's History Army Museum, a temple to nationalism and the communist struggle.

"Long live the day", a military choir sang as a prelude to the ribbon cutting ceremony. "We will never forget December 2, even though the revolution is under a new sky now."

Hundreds of soldiers then swarmed into view along with the Chinese tanks and Russian artillery used first against French colonialists, American imperialists and extreme right wingers from neighbouring Thailand in the 1980s.

"This museum makes me feel very proud because it will teach the younger generation about history and the war heroes," said Somporn Kheovichai, a 60-year-old general displaying medals earned from conflicts against the French and the Americans.

Apart from exhortations to fly the red and gold hammer and sickle flag from their windows, residents of the sleepy capital have also been receiving a history lesson.

The official Vientiane Times carried a lengthy tribute to the country's first president, Souphanouvong - ironically a French-educated prince who went on to lead the Pathet Lao guerrillas against the royalist government in the capital.

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