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China gears up for Congress

Beijing, March 3 (Reuters): China heads into a two-week session of parliament today that will put the finishing touches to a sweeping leadership transition and rubber stamp plans to streamline the bloated bureaucracy.

The National People’s Congress, a legislature subordinate to the ruling Communist Party, will see Jiang Zemin, 76, hand his presidency to the leader of a younger generation, Vice-President Hu Jintao, 60. Jiang, however, will retain his post as head of the state Central Military Commission, and call the shots in military and foreign affairs as his predecessor Deng Xiaoping did, analysts said.

The parliament is the culmination of a transition begun last year in which Jiang handed the party leadership to Hu — the first orderly succession since the Communists took power in 1949.

The new government leaders will take over one of the world’s fastest growing economies, but one beset with pressures from swelling ranks of unemployed, disgruntled farmers burdened by oppressive taxes and rampant corruption.

“The government has a desire and recognises the need to resolve the problem,” said economist Zhong Dajun, whose recent book on the widening economic gap between town and countryside drew criticism from China’s cultural tsars.

“But the widening gap between urban and rural residents will not disappear due to one or two meetings,” Zhong said.

“Industrialisation is a process taking more than 10 years,” he said. “But hopefully the meeting can come up with policies conducive to bridging the gap.”

The 2,984 parliament deputies will attend the proceedings at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square under tightened police security after bomb attacks last week at two prestigious Beijing universities, Peking and Tsinghua.

After its own shake-up in November, the Communist Party put the finishing touches at a plenum last week to the reshuffle of government posts. They will be ratified by the legislature, which will elect a new Vice-President, PM and Parliament chief.

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