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Nguyen Van Thieu was elected president of South Vietnam in 1967, but was forced to flee when his government surrendered to the North in 1975.
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Born in Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam, in November 1924 (later changing his birthday to April 5, 1923), Nguyen Van Thieu joined the French-supported Vietnam National Army in 1948. As a member of the South Vietnamese army in the fight against the communist North, Thieu rose in importance. He was elected president of South Vietnam in 1967 but his government only lasted two years after the U.S. withdrawal. Thieu was forced to flee Vietnam in 1975.
"I am old, too old to take power again"
On life in retirement: "I read. I discuss. I work in my home."
Born in Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam, in November 1924 (later changing his birthday to April 5, 1923, in accordance with a frequently used Vietnamese custom), Nguyen Van Thieu became president of South Vietnam following the 1967 election in his war-torn country. He led the Saigon government against the Communist enemy during the height of the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War.
In his youth, Thieu attended the Catholic Pellerin School at Hue and the National Military Academy. A Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist country, he also served in the French-supported Vietnam National Army from 1948 to 1954—fighting against the pro-Communist partisans of Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh.
After the termination of the conflict between France and the Viet Minh, Thieu was absorbed into the new independent South Vietnamese army, rising to become commander of the 1st Infantry Division by 1960. During these and the immediately succeeding years, Thieu was a supporter of autocratic president Ngo Dinh Diem (also a Catholic), who was deposed and slain in a military-led coup in 1963. Thieu was at first reluctant to take part in the overthrow, and had to be persuaded to participate.
In the years after the 1963 takeover, Thieu rose steadily in importance. He became deputy premier and minister of defense in 1964. He was appointed chief of state late in 1965 by Nguyen Cao Ky, who became premier when the South Vietnamese generals decided to form their own government following the weak civilian regime of Dr. Phan Huy Quat. Thieu soon proved his political mettle, emerging as the military's candidate in the American-encouraged 1967 elections. The more flamboyant Marshal Ky was forced to accept the soldiers' vice-presidential nomination.
Thieu won, as expected, in the balloting—partly because the country's most popular military figure, General Duong Van Minh, had been disqualified as a candidate on a technicality. But Thieu ended up with a surprisingly modest 35 percent plurality vote (with civilian candidate Truong Dinh Dzu polling 17 percent to finish second).
Following his electoral triumph, President Thieu sought to make his government somewhat more representative than it had been and to unify it politically and organizationally. Originally, only two of 19 Cabinet members were soldiers, and the premier, Tran Van Huong, was a civilian. In 1969, however, Thieu picked Gen. Tran Thien Khiem as premier in a government in which other soldiers, technocrats, and followers of former president Diem predominated.
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