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Vietnamese revolutionary-turned political leader dead at 86

December 26, 1996

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ Nguyen Huu Tho, an ardent communist who escaped from a South Vietnamese jail to become a key revolutionary and later a leader of reunified Vietnam, has died. He was 86.

Tho died of a heart ailment Tuesday in Ho Chi Minh City, the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday. Ho Chi Minh City was known as Saigon when it was the capital of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese regime Tho helped overthrow.

Tho first made his name as a communist lawyer who defended nationalists and led strikes against French colonial rule. Insurgents expelled the French in 1954, but Vietnam was divided into a communist north and pro-U.S. south.

Tho spent seven years in South Vietnam’s jails before escaping in 1960 and joining the National Liberation Front, eventually becoming its chairman.

The NLF was the political arm of the Viet Cong, the South Vietnam-based guerrilla group that spearheaded North Vietnam’s campaign to topple the Saigon government.

Although directed from Hanoi, the NLF claimed to be independent, allowing North Vietnam’s rulers to claim in turn that they were not interfering in the affairs of another country.

After 1975, when Hanoi’s troops defeated the Saigon army and reunified the country, Tho was appointed vice president of Vietnam. He held the position until 1992.

He was also the first mayor of Ho Chi Minh City after reunification.

Tho retired from politics in 1994.

A committed Marxist-Leninist, Tho was philosophically opposed to market-oriented reforms adopted by Hanoi in 1986, but saw them as the only way to raise the living standards of the country’s 70 million people.

Tho was born on July 11, 1910, in Saigon.

No information on survivors or funeral arrangements were released.

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