Hanoi residents snub 1,000-year birthday party

Hanoi is all dressed up and ready for a 10-day party to mark its 1,000th birthday, beginning Friday, but many residents of the Vietnamese capital are snubbing the event they dismiss as wasteful propaganda.

Freshly-hung coloured lights flash along the capital's major roads, artists have created a ceramic mosaic stretching for kilometres (miles) on a dyke wall, and state media said the city allocated funds to beautify offices and houses.

As well as projects carried out before the anniversary event, hundreds of cultural performances and exhibitions have been scheduled during the festival itself.

"I am not really interested in any activities for the 1,000th anniversary," said Vu Thuy Duong, 31, an office worker. "I don't feel I can be proud of anything in Hanoi."

Communist authorities two years ago tripled the size of the city to include surrounding rural areas. It is now home to more than six million people and challenged by traffic congestion, flooding and other problems, residents say.

"Our capital is dirty and chaotic. Not many tourists return after the first trip", said Nguyen Thi Lan, 44, a doctor.

An official at the city's local government, the People's Committee, said 63 million dollars was allocated for the millennium event.

Tran Van Lam, 65, a retiree, said the money would have been better spent on improving infrastructure.

"I don't like any of the activities or projects for the 1,000th anniversary," he said, describing many of them as "weird".

Among the more unusual events for Hanoi's birthday are exhibitions of 1,000 rare turtles and 1,000 farm tools, local media reported.

On Facebook and blogs, Vietnamese have aired many complaints about the celebration but the administrator of one local social networking site shut down discussion of the topic, saying it was "inappropriate".

King Ly Thai To moved the capital of Vietnam from Ninh Binh to Hanoi in 1010 and called it Thang Long, or "soaring dragon".

In the 19th century, King Gia Long transferred the seat of government to Hue in the centre of the country, but the Red River Delta city of Hanoi regained its role as capital in 1945 when founding President Ho Chi Minh declared independence from French colonisers.

The city's millennium will also be marked by the inauguration of bridges, a boulevard, monuments, and a new museum.

Celebrations will peak on October 10 with what officials describe as Vietnam's biggest-ever parade. There will be 31,000 participants, about one-third of them from the military, officials said.

"I think, as with many other events, the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi has been used for political and propaganda purposes," said Lam, the retiree.

Communist Vietnam is rated as one of the world's most corrupt nations and Tran Quoc Hung, 38, a motorcycle taxi driver, alleged that the grand celebrations are a chance for officials to spend state money.

"Many people will get rich thanks to these celebrations, I guess," Hung said with a laugh. "What a waste of money and effort."

Some residents said millennium projects were finished in a rush. "This is typically the Vietnamese way of doing things," said one man, Nguyen Duc Thang, 42.

Anniversary preparations caused weeks of chaos on city roads and sidewalks as workers put Hanoi's spaghetti-like collection of overhead telecommunications cables underground. The project left residents at risk of sprained ankles as they tried to walk on the excavated pavements that were later filled in with fresh stonework.

Residents now fear more chaos as the festival begins. "Transport will be a mess then," Lam said.

Officials have issued a page-long list of roads that will be closed for the anniversary, which Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung earlier this year said must be impressive.

"We must spare no effort to make lasting impressions on our countrymen and foreign guests," the official Vietnam News Agency quoted him as saying.