Vietnam invites Russian experts to help preserve embalmed 'Uncle Ho'

Hanoi (AFP) –


Vietnam has enlisted a team of Russian and local experts to help preserve the body of embalmed revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, whose corpse has lain in a sprawling concrete monument in central Hanoi since his death nearly 50 years ago.

Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known in Vietnam, enjoys demi-god status in the country, revered as the communist hero who led his country to independence.

His embalmed corpse lies in state in a massive concrete tomb in Hanoi, modelled after Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square.

Hanoi has now set up a state council of 11 specialists -- four from Russia, the rest Vietnamese -- to "evaluate the status of the body of president Ho Chi Minh", according to a statement on the government's official website.

The council must propose "technical methods and plans... to long preserve and ensure absolute safety to the body of president Ho Chi Minh in the years to come," said the decision endorsing the council, signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Ho Chi Minh was embalmed soon after his death on September 2, 1969 despite clear wishes in his will to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in northern and southern Vietnam.

The communist leader reportedly feared that a cult of personality would develop -- and indeed visiting his tomb is a ritual for school children who make pilgrimages from across the country every year to see him.

His image plasters government offices and Ho-themed memorabilia, books and propaganda posters are on offer across the capital.

Russian experts were enlisted to embalm Ho soon after his death, and various specialists have continued to help Hanoi preserve the leader, who wears a utilitarian suit in the cool glass chamber where he rests.

After his death Hanoi ordered the embalming chemicals from Russia and in 2005 started producing the mixture domestically, according to state media.

Hanoi is planning a series of propaganda-laden events to mark 50 years since Ho's death, including a national ceremony, a science seminar, and an exhibition.

More than 57 million people, including 10 million foreigners, have visited Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum since it opened to the public in August 1975.