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PARIS: An incendiary novel by Vietnam’s most popular dissident writer takes on “father of the nation” Ho Chi Minh, claiming he had a young secret lover – and that she was raped and murdered by his own Communist comrades.

Interviewed in Paris, where she lives in exile and where the book was released this month, 61-year-old Duong Thu Huong claims the Vietnamese regime has suppressed the story of the national hero’s twilight years.

Like her previous works, “The Zenith” – which casts Ho Chi Minh as “The President” – is banned from Vietnamese bookshops, but it has been released on the Internet, drawing close to 100,000 readers and wide critical interest.

Based on 15 years of research, Huong claims the ageing leader fell in love in the 1950s with a woman 40 years his junior, who bore him two children and was assassinated in 1957 at the party’s orders to stop them from marrying.

“His companions were terrified it would damage his saint-like image,” Huong told AFP.

“In the West, people worship youth. But in Asia, it is the opposite, we venerate old people. He was not allowed to be a lover and a husband, to waste his energy with a woman of flesh and blood.”

Huong claims his young lover, Xuan, was clubbed to death and her body dumped on a road to disguise the murder as a traffic accident, and that party officials erased all trace of the romance from the public record.

Ho Chi Minh carried the secret of her death to the grave, Huong claims, when he died in September 1969 on the anniversary of Vietnamese independence.

He was nearly 80 years old, weak and ill, when, according to the writer, he hastened his own death by pulling out an intravenous drip on September 2, choosing the symbolic date in a final act of defiance against the Party, to “cast a curse on the corrupt regime”.

“His criminal comrades understood that he chose the date to signify the coming destruction of the regime. So they falsified the facts and dated his death September 3,” she said.

One of the 20th century’s most influential Communist leaders, Ho Chi Minh steered the Vietnamese nationalist movement for close to three decades and was president of North Vietnam from 1945 until his death.

Huong admits taking liberties with historical facts in her tale of thwarted love, political intrigue and treachery, but she stands by the account of Ho Chi Minh’s murdered companion and the circumstances of his death.

“The people must understand. They have been manipulated, humiliated and deceived by their leaders,” she said.

A former hero of the Vietnam war who turned against the Communist regime in the 1980s, Huong was imprisoned for eight months for her writings in 1991, and finally left the country in 2006 for a life in exile in Paris.

“I was forced to live with the outcasts and the lepers. I was no longer the darling child of the Party,” she said. “I became the enemy of the people who gets insulted, who gets called an old whore.”

Huong insists she has no interest in politics but she describes herself as a pro-democracy activist, and the Internet as a “weapon for democracy”.

“Everyone knew the truth. Everyone lived under the shadow of this falsified history. But the intelligentsia looked the other way, they bowed their heads, out of cowardice,” she said.—AFP