By Steve Holland
HO CHI MINH CITY, Nov 20 (Reuters) US President George W Bush views Vietnam's ascent from battered war nation to blooming economic tiger today before ending his Asia tour in Indonesia, where thousands have been protesting against him.
For Bush, it will be an opportunity to see the bustling city that is now a symbol of communist Vietnam's acceleration to capitalism 31 years after the Americans evacuated former Saigon.
Thousands of Vietnamese lined the streets of Ho Chi Minh City to greet Bush on his arrival last night, many waving, some cheering, almost all smiling, with some children watching from their parents' shoulders.
He came from Hanoi, where he attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and sought help from China and Russia on twin nuclear challenges from North Korea and Iran.
His week-long trip, which began with a stop in Singapore, is his first abroad since Democrats hit his Republicans in November. 7 elections and took control of the US Congress, prompting the president to assure Asian allies of US engagement with them.
Bush's day on Monday will be the longest and most challenging of his gruelling trip. He visits Ho Chi Minh City's stock exchange, a history museum named for the revolutionary leader, and the Pasteur Institute, which has benefited from US funding in the fight against AIDS.
INDONESIAN PROTESTERS And then it is on to Indonesia, where thousands of protesters have been demonstrating against his visit.
He will spend little more than four hours in the world's most populous Muslim nation, meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bogor about an hour's drive from Jakarta.
They are to hold a news conference in which Bush is expected to stress a US desire for stronger ties with Indonesia and promise that US friendship goes beyond the help Americans gave the country after the killer tsunami of nearly two years ago.
As proof, he will cite 55 million dollar in US aid for anti-corruption and child immunisation programmes.
Indonesia is a key regional ally for the United States in its war against Islamic militants and looks to America for trade and investment, but many Bush administration policies, especially in the Middle East, are unpopular.
White House officials were confident of Bush's safety.
''We believe that the Secret Service and the Indonesian authorities are taking all appropriate measures to protect President and Mrs. Bush,'' said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
After visiting Indonesia, Bush is to fly on to Hawaii on the first leg of a long flight back to Washington.
REUTERS DKS PM0606