After two and half years of Communism, Laos appears to be forming closer ties with the Soviet Union, Reuters reports.
GV PAN: across Mekong River into Thailand over border with Laos.
GV: street scenes in Sam Sen Thai Street in Vientiane with shops closed and barred. (2 shots)
GV: Cinema with Soviet film posters. (3 shots)
SV: portraits of President Souphanavong and Prime Minister Kaysonne Phomvihane, inside cinema.
GV: Chinese plaque on Chinese Embassy. (2 shots)
GV AND SV: posters of Mao Tse-tung and Hua Kuo-feng on Embassy wall.
GV AND SV: Soviet visitors buying goods in Vientiane market (6 shots)
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Background: After two and half years of Communism, Laos appears to be forming closer ties with the Soviet Union, Reuters reports. The country has been ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party since the abolition of the monarchy in December, 1975. The influence of Vietnamese and Chinese advisors appears to be declining, and the Soviet Union now has the most obvious foreign presence in the capital, Vientiane.
SYNOPSIS: The city lies only a few hundred yards (metres) from the Mekong River which separates Laos from Thailand. Throughout history, the capital depended economically as much of Thailand, as one the rest of Laos. Since the Communist take-over in Laos, relations with Thailand have deteriorated and the border has been frequently closed. Cinemas in the city centre now show films from only the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Portraits of the Laotian President Souphanouvong and Prime Minister Kaysonne Phomvihane hang alongside Soviet film stars.
Private businesses and shops have closed, and the owners, who include many Chinese have left the country. An estimated 100,000 Chinese have either returned to China or settled in Thailand. The embassy in Vientiane is one of the few signs of Chinese influence left in the city.
Soviet visitors patronise Vientiane's central market. This is now the commercial centre of the city, following the boardingup of most other stores. Laos still faces immense economic problems, including a food shortage which encourages smuggling and the brisk trade on the black-market. Last year the monsoon rains failed, there was a poor rice harvest and food prices rose.
Most of the Soviet personnel in the city are ministerial advisors, technicians and their families. Some are attached to the Lao airline, Lao Aviation, and help maintain and fly the aircraft. Lao dignitaries used to spend their holidays in Europe or the United States but President Souphanouvong chose to take his latest holiday in the Soviet Union.