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Obituaries / Vo Van Kiet, 1922 - 2008

Vietnam premier pushed reforms

June 12, 2008|From the Associated Press

Former Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, an economic reformer who led the communist nation away from poverty and isolation and backed the normalization of ties with the United States, died Wednesday. He was 85.

Kiet, who was prime minister from 1991 to 1997, died in a Singapore hospital, where he was taken Saturday after suffering a stroke, government officials said.

His body was to be taken to Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, where he had held a number of top Communist Party and government posts.

Born into a peasant family in southern Vinh Long province on Nov. 23, 1922, Kiet fought the French and Americans for almost four decades, joining communist revolutionary forces at the age of 16.

As prime minister, Kiet helped craft policies that attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment, vastly expanded trade and enabled the economy to grow at an annual rate of better than 8%.

Impatient with Communist Party functionaries trying to protect their own turf, Kiet argued that the party could stay in power only if it loosened its tight hold over the government and business, allowing them to become more efficient.

Although his first wife and two children were said to have been killed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, Kiet was a firm supporter of normalizing relations with the U.S., which was finally achieved in 1995.

He supported moves to privatize much state industry, enact clearer laws and end special privileges for army and party leaders.

But Kiet ran into stiff opposition from within the party and army, especially after circulating a memo in 1995 urging bolder reforms.

He stepped down in 1997 when he was 74, saying the nation needed younger leaders, but he remained active in its affairs.

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