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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Beijing on alert as annual political session opens

March 4, 2010

The Associated Press (AP)
March 3, 2010

BEIJING -- Black-clad SWAT teams patrolled
downtown Beijing on Wednesday and an AIDS group
was ordered to cancel a seminar as part of
China's security clampdown ahead of this week's
opening of the national legislature's annual session.

Officers on motorcycles and in armored vans
circled Tiananmen Square in the heart of the
capital, adjacent to the Great Hall of the People
where members of the legislature's advisory body begin meeting Wednesday.

The actual legislature, a largely ceremonial body
known as the National People's Congress, begins
its nearly two-week session Friday.

Foot patrols were stepped up around the square,
and retirees mobilized by neighborhood committees
to watch for trouble were stationed every few
yards (meters) along Chang'an Boulevard, which
runs along the vast plaza's northern edge.

Police were also cracking down on people visiting
Beijing to petition for government assistance
over various grievances. A group of about half a
dozen women who approached the Great Hall
carrying shopping bags and wads of documents was
forced into a police van and driven away.

As is routine during the session, the highlight
of China's political calendar, dissidents and
groups working on sensitive social issues were coming under increased pressure.

AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, founder of the
Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute, said police
had ordered him to cancel a seminar Wednesday
marking International Sex Worker Rights Day.

"The seminar is a perfectly normal activity;
we're not opposing anything," Wan said in a
telephone interview. "It's a meeting of the
people's government, so they should let the people express themselves."

The legislative advisory body, the Chinese
People's Political Consultative Conference,
opened with a speech broadly outlining issues of
national concern delivered by its chairman, the
Communist Party's No. 4 ranking leader, Jia Qinglin.

Jia praised China's economic policies, saying,
"the response to the impact of the global
financial crisis was a significant test for the
party and the government's ability to rule and administer the country."

He also made reference to riots last July in the
far-western Xinjiang region, where clashes
between minority Turkic-speaking Uighurs and
majority Han residents in Urumqi left nearly 200
people dead and 1,600 wounded, according to the
government, in China's worst ethnic unrest in decades.

"We strongly supported the party and the
government in dealing with the destructive,
disruptive, violent, and criminal incidents in
Urumqi in accordance with the law," he said.

In China's other troubled minority area, Tibet,
Jia said China planned to push "leapfrog
development and lasting stability." The comments
follow a high-level Communist Party conference in
January that emphasized raising rural livelihoods
in Tibet, an apparent acknowledgment that decades
of investment in industry and infrastructure have
failed to endear the region's herders and farmers to Chinese rule.

This year's legislative session is expected to
focus on economic policy, while also giving a
full airing to hot-button issues such as soaring
real estate prices in many Chinese cities.

The government, which releases a budget and work
plan for the year, is expected to boost spending
on education, pensions and medical care,
continuing a push begun over the past decade to
strengthen a tattered social safety net.

The congress is also expected to pass legislation
on safeguarding state secrets and amend a law on
how deputies are selected, correcting a disparity
that gave urban Chinese greater representation
than their more numerous rural neighbors.

Along the sidelines, the congress will focus
attention on an upcoming national leadership
transition that begins with a key Communist Party congress in 2012.

Many of the aspirants for top jobs will be
seeking to network among congress participants
and maximize the opportunity for national media exposure.

Particular attention is being paid this year to
Bo Xilai, party boss of the western city of
Chongqing, who is riding a wave of popularity for
an anti-gang crusade in which dozens of law
enforcement officials have been arrested for collusion.
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