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A political ghost called Zhao

Beijing, Nov. 8 (Reuters): An 83-year-old man with a receding silver hairline lives in a spacious courtyard home in a quiet leafy lane in central Beijing, virtually secluded for more than a decade.

He kills time by reading and trying to improve his golf handicap. But Zhao Ziyang, once China’s second most powerful man but who has been politically sidelined and silenced for 13 years, is still deemed a security threat to the Communist Party.

Zhao has been living under house arrest since his mentor, Deng Xiaoping, dumped him for opposing an army crackdown on student demonstrations for democracy in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The current leadership is still nervous about Zhao’s residual influence, fearing the liberal former party chief could re-emerge as a rallying point for reformists in the government and workers disgruntled about soaring unemployment and the widening gap between rich and poor.

Analysts said Zhao is a political ghost haunting his successor, Jiang Zemin, but lacks the power to influence the day-to-day world of politics.

“Without huge political transformation in China, Zhao has no chance,” said a Chinese academic who spoke on condition of anonymity. Cut off from the world, apart from the occasional visit to a golf course outside Beijing and trips to provinces, Zhao has been sidelined from politics and is now a largely forgotten figure.

Zhao lives with his wife, Liang Boqi, and their daughter, an executive at an auction house.

However, he still has the potential to stir up public dissent. The passing of Chinese leaders has often been the spark for street protests — purged party chief Hu Yaobang's death in April 1989 led to the Tiananmen movement.

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