LAOS: On the Road to Chaos

Vientiane—capital of the least of the three nations carved out of French IndoChina—lay in its habitual half-slumber beside the Mekong River. It was the Buddhist Lent in Laos. Temple gongs bonged in the viscous humidity; saffron-robed monks strutted about beneath gaudy parasols or sat cross-legged in the shade, puffing acrid French tobacco and sipping lemonade. Suddenly there was a stir. Official limousines swept out of the royal palace amid shrieking sirens and flapping royal banners (a three-headed elephant against a red background), bearing Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma to the airport to meet his half brother Prince Souphanou Vong,...

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