Puppet ruler of Vietnam dies in exile

Paris (Reuter) - Vietnam's last Emperor Bao Dai, a symbolic ruler and puppet of the French colonial regime, has died in a military hospital in Paris after spending four decades in exile in France, officials said yesterday. He was 83.

At first seen as a likely pioneer for Vietnamese independence from the French, Bao Dai indulged instead in the life of a jet-setter and become known as the Playboy Emperor.

Born Nguyen Vinh Thuy in 1913, he reached the throne in 1926, taking the title Bao Dai (Keeper of Greatness) as sovereign. Bao Dai went to France to complete his education and the French appointed a royal family member, Ton That Han, as regent to manage the court's affairs.

In 1932, Bao Dai assumed his royal duties at Hue, the Imperial City. Initially he attempted to modernise Vietnam and adopt reforms but France was unwilling to co-operate. In the end, he spent most of his time in France and when at home, he spent much of his time hunting on central Vietnam's high plains.

During the Second World War, when France was under German control, Bao Dai was forced to collaborate with the Japanese invaders. When Japan surrendered, the Communist Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh seized the chance to stage a coup d'etat and proclaimed a republic in an attempt to head off the restoration of French colonial rule.

Bao Dai abdicated in favour of the Viet Minh in 1945 and was named "Citizen Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy" by Ho. But on the eve of Vietnam's declaration of war against France in 1946, he fled to Hong Kong to resume a life of leisure.

In 1949, Bao Dai returned from exile and became interim premier, and shortly after, the French reinstalled him as monarch. Following Ho Chi Minh's victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam, he left for exile in southern France and played no further political role in his country's affairs.

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