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Li Peng takes his final bow

Beijing, March 10 (Reuters): Li Peng, the Communist Party hardliner best known for announcing martial law before the army crushed the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, took his final bow on China’s public stage today.

But his impending retirement from the political arena gave little solace to his critics.

Deputies to the largely rubber-stamp National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, gave modest plaudits to Li, 74, and had higher hopes of the man analysts say is sure to take his place, Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo, who turns 62 in July.

Near the end of a one-hour speech, his last before retiring as part of a sweeping leadership transition to a new generation, Li broke from the script to encourage his successors.

“The pupil often surpasses the master,” he said. “I believe the work of the 10th NPC will be even better than the work of the 9th NPC, even more outstanding!”

But many people in Beijing remember the impression he left in 1989 when, as Premier, he announced the imposition of martial law that led to the army opening fire on protesters in central Beijing.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are believed to have been killed.

Ding Zilin, an activist whose teenage son was shot dead by the army on the night of June 3-4, 1989, did not think Li’s retirement would bring much change. Nor was it likely to increase the chances of an official reversal of the Communist Party’s verdict on the incident as counter-revolutionary, for which activists have been campaigning, she said.

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