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Vietnam announces resignation of three longtime leaders

Three of Vietnam's top leaders have resigned, opening the door to reform-minded younger officials - but economic reform may still be a long way off, Western diplomats here said. Hanoi radio announced yesterday that President and Communist Party Secretary-General Truong Chinh, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong and fourth-ranked Politburo member Le Duc Tho stepped down during the Communist Party's Sixth National Congress.

Mr. Chinh, 79, Mr. Dong, 80, and Mr. Tho, 75, were the last of a core of revolutionaries who helped Ho Chi Minh found the party in 1930, drive out the Japanese, French, and Americans and reunify Vietnam under the Communist banner in April 1975. The three, along with Chinh's predecessor, the late Le Duan, had emerged as a collective leadership after Ho died in 1969.

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It is expected that their replacements will be announced today, during the closing session, along with the new Central Committee and ruling Politburo.

The resignations leave the third-ranked leader, Vice-Premier Pham Hung, as the senior active Politburo member. He is also interior minister, heading the nation's powerful police apparatus.

Nguyen Van Linh, 72, thought to have been the prime mover in the reformist faction, is widely viewed as Chinh's heir-apparent. Chinh, once a hard-line Marxist, had recently been considered a reformer. Vo Chi Cong, 73, who also pioneered pragmatic attempts at economic reform, is expected to take over the premiership.

There has been a heavy theme of self-criticism running through reports given at the congress, but diplomats say they have seen no evidence indicating quick or drastic policy changes after new leaders take over.

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