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Calls for change echo in China

Beijing, Nov. 6 (Reuters): China's Communist Party chieftains faced calls for political reform and greater transparency from dissidents and top academics today in the final countdown to a watershed congress this week.

Nearly 200 Chinese political activists signed an open letter urging the party to reverse its damning verdict on the 1989 pro-democracy protests at the 16th congress starting on Friday, when top leaders are due to retire, a human rights group said.

Two of the nation's top economists, prominent members of the establishment, also made a bold appeal for clearer rules on how and when party leaders step down as speculation mounted that party chief Jiang Zemin would retire in name only.

The appeals highlighted a key theme of the congress — the mounting pressure on Chinese leaders to modernise a political system that analysts say lags dangerously behind the country's breakneck economic development.

Yesterday, the party's 325-member Central Committee approved a plan to add to its constitution Jiang’s “Three Represents” theory which analysts say sanctions admitting private entrepreneurs in an attempt to modernise the party.

The New York-based Human Rights in China said the activists' letter credited the party for economic reforms that have made China one of the bright spots in a gloomy world economy. “But fairly good economic development cannot conceal increasingly visible and deep social threats,” it said.

“The problem is that because of the rejection of systemic political reform, because of the rejection of democracy and rule of law, corruption is worse and worse,” it said.

The letter urged the congress to rethink the verdict on the 1989 protests — branded a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” and crushed by the military — and compensate victims' relatives.

Hundreds of protesters were killed when the army cleared Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4.

Three Gorges dam

China finished blocking the Yangtze river at the Three Gorges Dam today, paving the way for the world’s biggest hydroelectricity and flood control project to come on stream next year, state media said.

The controversial $25 billion dam, which is forcing the relocation of 1.2 million peasants living along the river’s banks before ancient villages and relics are submerged came two days before a crucial Communist Party Congress opens in Beijing.

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