Vietnamese students gather around a captured US Army tank at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city
Under the watchful eye of a giant gold bust of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's Communist Party celebrated its 1975 victory.

Party leaders, foreign diplomats and journalists watched Friday as a troupe of ballet dancers performed an interpretive dance with rifles slung over their backs, set to music punctuated by the sounds of battle.

The Vietnam War pitted the communist North against anti-communist South Vietnam, which was supported politically and militarily by the United States.

Up to three million Vietnamese on both sides died, soldiers and civilians, and more than 58,000 American troops, died in the conflict.

However, the official line of what is called the American War here downplays the fact that North Vietnam was fighting against southern compatriots to establish communist rule over the whole country.

Speaking at Friday's ceremony in Hanoi, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai spoke only of what he called a great victory against "American invaders".

Mr. Khai calls the victory in the resistance war against America the most glowing page in Vietnam's history.  He says the victory of heroic revolution will be recorded in history as a great triumph of the 20th century.

Ho Chi Minh did not live to see his party's victory on April 30, 1975.  He died six years before the fall of Saigon, but the strict totalitarian state Ho had established in the North was extended to the entire country after the war was over.

The Party began to loosen its grip nearly 20 years ago with its policy of "doi moi," or renewal.  While the government still jails anyone who challenges its monopoly on power, most people live their daily lives with little interference, and the economy is now thriving.

Friday's ceremony was a chance for the Party to celebrate its victory in the war, and the peacetime achievements it says are still guided by the spirit of Ho Chi Minh.