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Vietnam closed its watershed Sixth Party Congress today, naming...

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Vietnam closed its watershed Sixth Party Congress today, naming Nguyen Van Linh, an economic reformer and former Viet Cong leader against the United States, as new party chief.

Linh, 73, succeeded Party Secretary General Truong Chinh, 79, one of the three top Vietnamese leaders who resigned Wednesday, ending more than 50 years of leadership in revolution and war.

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Also named were the party Politburo, the elite group that dictates policy, a new party Central Committee and the party Secretariat, which acts as the go-between for the Politburo and Central Committee.

The new lineup was announced at the close of the four-day Sixth Party Congress in Hanoi, a landmark session in which leaders confessed to bungling the economy and delegates approved the biggest shake-up in the party's 56-year history.

Linh's appointment was widely expected. He gave the opening speech of the congress Monday.

In his closing speech today, Linh said, 'We pledge to pool our hearts and forge together with all the party members and people to do our utmost to successfully implement the congress resolutions.'

Linh, a native of Hanoi, made his reputation in the 1960s and 1970s against American forces and U.S.-backed South Vietnam.

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He was a shadowy figure with power over both the political and military struggle in the south. On May 1, 1975, a day after the communists captured Saigon, he was identified as the ranking Viet Cong or southern communist in the South Vietnam capital.

After the war Linh returned to Hanoi, where he was appointed to the party Central Committee and Politburo at the fourth congress in 1976.

In 1981 he became party chief in Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the Vietnamese revolution founder.

A year later, the reform-minded Linh stepped down from the Politburo and Secretariat apparently to devote full attention to his party secretary general post in the city.

During his tenure, Linh became identified with economic reforms that attempted to decentralize decision-making and use material incentives to stimulate production.

He allowed experiments with small-scale, family businesses and efforts to attract investment from Vietnamese living abroad.

Linh returned to the Politburo in 1985, as the party apparently began to prepare for the retirement of its top leaders.

During the yearlong preparations for the Sixth Congress, Linh's speeches were frequently cited as guidance for the party. He strongly advocated frank discussion of errors and shortcomings -- a view that became standard policy before the congress.

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Among those joining Linh in the Politburo were: Vo Chi Cong, another economic reformer who is considered a leading candidate to become the new premier; Le Duc Anh, Vietnam's top ranking general; Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach; and Mai Chi Tho, an internal security official and brother of Le Duc Tho, a Politburo member who retired Wednesday.

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