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Viet legend Giap heads towards 100

Legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap is celebrating another major victory: his 100th birthday.

Giap is revered by Vietnamese second only to former President Ho Chi Minh. Together, they plotted brave campaigns from jungles and caves using ill-equipped guerrilla fighters to gain Vietnam's independence, eventually leading to the end of French colonial rule throughout Indochina.

Two decades later, Giap's northern Communist forces also wore down the US military, forcing them out of the former South Vietnam.

"It can be said that some of the country's most glorious and most important events are associated with his name and his cause," Do Quy Doan, vice culture minister, said at a reception in Hanoi this week ahead of Giap's birthday on Thursday.

The four-star general has been hospitalised for about two years. But Giap continues to sign cards - including a thank-you note to his "comrades" for their outpouring of birthday wishes - and is still briefed every few days about international and national events, said Col. Nguyen Huyen, Giap's personal secretary for 35 years.

"He has helped to defeat two major powers," Huyen said. "Gen. Giap is the big brother of the heroic Vietnamese People's Army."

Although he was shoved out of the inner circle of political power decades ago, the slight white-haired military strategist remains a national treasure and still welcomed foreign leaders to his French-style villa in Hanoi until three years ago.

In 2009, he spoke forcefully against a bauxite mining plan in Vietnam's Central Highlands, calling on the government to reconsider the Chinese-led project because it posed environmental and security risks. He also protested the demolition of Hanoi's historic parliament house, Ba Dinh Hall. Both projects, however, went ahead.

At an exhibition in Hanoi marking his birthday, black-and-white photographs show Giap visiting troops during the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu, a surprise attack that forced the French to surrender and cemented his reputation as a brilliant military strategist willing to endure huge losses to clinch victory.

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