Obituary: Nguyen Khanh / General led Vietnam coup

Nov. 8, 1927 - Jan. 11, 2013

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Nguyen Khanh, a South Vietnamese general who briefly seized control of the government before being deposed and sent into exile, died Jan. 11 in San Jose, Calif. He was 85.

The cause was health problems related to diabetes, according to a statement from Chanh Nguyen Huu, who succeeded Mr. Khanh as head of a self-described South Vietnamese government in exile in California.

Mr. Khanh's rise to power in the 1960s, and his ultimate defeat, came during a period of deep political turmoil in South Vietnam, marked by several coup attempts in which he played a role.

In November 1960, already a major general, he helped thwart an attempt to depose the country's president, Ngo Dinh Diem, who had the strong backing of the United States at the time. Diem's rule came to an end three years later, in 1963, when he was overthrown by a military junta.

Although Gen. Khanh had played a role in deposing Diem, he was not selected to be on the 12-man Military Revolutionary Council that took control of the government.

Gen. Khanh, one of many Vietnamese officers who picked up a love of poker from the French, bided his time before playing his hand.

On Jan. 30, 1964, he seized control of South Vietnam's government without a shot being fired, throwing his old poker buddy Gen. Ton That Dinh in jail along with several other leaders of the military junta.

"The bloodless coup d'etat executed by the short, partly bald general apparently took Saigon by surprise," The New York Times reported at the time.

Gen. Khanh had "a deserved reputation as a brilliant and driving field commander, but also as a 'lone wolf,' " The Times wrote, adding, "He has no truly intimate associates among the other generals."

Like other senior Vietnamese officers, Gen. Khanh had received military education in both France and the United States and won distinction as both a fighter pilot and a battlefield commander.

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