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Hu Jintao elected as president but Tibet turmoil casts shadow

March 16, 2008

BEIJING, March 15 (AFP) — China's Communist Party chief Hu Jintao was
given five more years as president at an elaborate parliamentary
ceremony here on Saturday, but his orchestrated victory was
overshadowed by turmoil in Tibet.

Hu, 65, was the only candidate for president and received the support
of 99.7 percent of the votes cast at the annual session of the
National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

Hu was also re-elected head of China's Central Military Commission
with the same level of support, while his widely expected successor,
Xi Jinping, 54, was elected vice president with 98.5 percent support
of the votes cast.

In front of the handpicked parliamentary delegates, Hu and Xi, wearing
identical dark suits, embraced each other and smiled.

With Premier Wen Jiabao set to be endorsed as premier for five more
years on Monday, the parliamentary events showed the grip of China's
communist rulers on national power remains as firm as ever.

However, behind the smiles, the leaders were undoubtedly preoccupied
with protests in Tibet that have turned into the biggest challenge
against Chinese rule of the remote Himalayan region since 1989.

A week of peaceful protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa erupted on
Friday into a day of widespread violence, leading to the deaths of at
least 10 people, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

While the leaders were in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing,
tanks and military vehicles were patrolling the streets of Lhasa amid
a heavy security presence to ensure there were no more protests.

"There are tanks and armed soldiers on the streets. We have been told
to stay in our rooms... the city is shut down," Wu Yongzhe, a private
tour organiser based in Lhasa, told AFP.

Wu and other tour operators told AFP that foreign tourists were being
denied entry into Tibet, as the official Xinhua news agency published
thousands of words seeking to blame the Tibetan protesters for all of
the violence.

For China's communist chiefs, the unrest comes at a sensitive time as
the world's spotlight falls on the country ahead of the Beijing
Olympics.

But looking further ahead, analysts said Saturday's developments in
Beijing showed Xi was firmly in line to take over Hu's post as head of
the Communist Party in 2012 and as China's president in 2013.

"Xi is right on track to become Hu's successor," Joseph Cheng, a
leading China watcher at City University of Hong Kong told AFP.

"If things go smoothly and he makes no mistakes, he will be named to
head the party in 2012 when Hu steps down."

On Saturday, Wu Bangguo was also endorsed to serve as head of the
parliament for another five years, which is officially the second
highest post in China's political hierarchy.

It also rubber-stamped a cabinet revamp that will reduce the number of
government ministries from one to 27. As part of that revamp, an
environment ministry will be created for the first time.
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