- China's Xi appointed president, completes rise to the top
- For China's rising political star, an early test
- New pope promises to bring new look to Church
Posted: 13 Mar 2013 09:12 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's parliament formally elected heir-in-waiting Xi Jinping as the country's new president on Thursday, completing the country's second orderly political succession since the Communist Party took power in 1949.
The largely rubber-stamp National People's Congress chose Xi in a tightly scripted ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, putting the final seal of approval on a generational transition of power.
Xi was appointed party and military chief - where real power lies - in November.
The 59-year-old was also elected head of the Central Military Commission, the parallel government post to the party's top military position which he already holds, ensuring that he has full power over the party, state and armed forces.
There was virtually no opposition among the carefully selected legislators to Xi becoming president. Xi drew just one no vote and three abstentions from the almost 3,000 delegates.
Xi bowed deeply and shook hands with his predecessor Hu Jintao upon the announcement of the result, carried live on state television. Xi and Hu exchanged a few inaudible words.
Li Yuanchao was also elected vice president, confirming an earlier Reuters story.
Vice Premier Li Keqiang is set to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in a similarly scripted vote on Friday.
Hu, 70, relinquished the presidency after serving the maximum two five-year terms.
Hu's accession to president a decade ago marked Communist China's first peaceful transition of power. Violent events such as the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators had overshadowed previous hand-overs.
Since taking up the position of the much more powerful post of party chief last November, Xi has focused his rhetoric on fighting corruption and promoting austere practices such as banning senior military officers from holding alcohol-fuelled banquets.
Many Chinese hope Xi will bring change in a country that has risen to become the world's second-biggest economy but is marred by deepening income inequality, corruption and environmental destruction left over from the administration of Hu and Wen.
Xi inherits a constituency that is more distrustful of government and well-versed at using the Internet to criticise their leaders.
At the same time, his administration must deal with a slowdown in economic growth, juggle the urgent task of calming a frothy housing market, defuse local government debt risks and wean China off its addiction to investment-led expansion.
Xi will also have to deal with an increasingly provocative North Korea and tensions with the United States, Japan and Southeast Asia.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 13 Mar 2013 08:40 PM PDT
SHANGPU, China (Reuters) - An explosion of unrest in a south China village after a controversial sale of farmland, followed by a harsh police crackdown on villagers, has become a testing ground for a man considered a potential leader of the country.
The village, Shangpu, is in Guangdong, bordering Hong Kong. The province is China's most wealthy and most politically aware, and the Communist Party chief there is Hu Chunhua, a member of the powerful 25-person national politburo and a protege of former leader Hu Jintao.
Guangdong has been the site of many violent protests by villagers angered by the seizure of farmland by corrupt local officials. This land is often sold on to businessmen building industrial zones in the region, the engine of China's growth.
How Hu Chunhua, who has a reputation for being a reformer, has handled the protests in Shangpu so far offers some clues into his leadership and crisis management style. He was appointed to the job in Guangdong just three months ago, replacing the high profile and reformist Wang Yang, who won plaudits for defusing a similarly volatile land grab standoff in Wukan village in 2011.
Already this year, Hu has stepped in to mediate a newsroom strike over censorship at a prominent Chinese newspaper, but the dispute in Shangpu has required a different set of skills.
"We want him (Hu) to help us get peace in the village," said a middle-aged woman in Shangpu, who did not want to give her name. "Only the provincial government can help â€¦ the local government here is so black."
The trouble in Shangpu began in mid-January when villagers discovered 33 hectares of fields and rice paddies had been secretly sold off by its village chief to a businessman. Petitions to higher officials went nowhere.
In February, a clash erupted between villagers and what local officials have described as a "mafia-like" gang of thugs hired by the businessman, Wu Guicun, to force through the land deal. Residents chased away the men, smashed more than 20 vehicles and barricaded the area with makeshift guardposts.
Authorities responded within days, detaining the village chief Li Baoyu who allegedly brokered the land deal and issuing an arrest warrant for Wu. Meanwhile, a local court issued a statement on March 6 effectively nullifying the sale.
"The provincial government helped us," said Shangpu's deputy party secretary Li Kaiwen, who took over running of the village after his boss was detained.
"Things couldn't have been moved so quickly if the provincial government didn't issue instructions to the county and township officials to act," he told Reuters. Li added, however, that he never spoke to Hu directly.
But days later, local police surged into Shangpu to clear away the gutted vehicles, firing volleys of tear gas and beating up villagers with truncheons. Nearly 30 villagers, including elderly men and women in their 70s, were hospitalised.
"They hadn't even finished the negotiations and they just attacked us. This made the situation worse when it could have been resolved peacefully," said a local teacher in Shangpu who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.
WAS HU INVOLVED?
Hu's involvement, either in the first quick reaction to the unrest and or in the crackdown, isn't clear. He is currently in Beijing for the annual session of parliament, but analysts say how he handles this local crisis may be crucial to his career.
"These things to Hu Chunhua are even more important for him than other provincial leaders because of his potential," said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University in Hong Kong. "They could affect his image and affect the central government's assessment of his performance."
Hu, 49, is part of the so-called "sixth generation" of potential national leaders born in the 1960s. This generation is likely to take power in 2022, after the decade-long rule of current leader Xi Jinping comes to an end.
Hu spent two decades in restive and remote Tibet, where he learned to speak Tibetan, rare for a Han Chinese official. While there, he came under the wing of Hu Jintao, the outgoing president.
Prior to Guangdong, Hu Chunhua was party boss of Inner Mongolia where he oversaw rapid economic growth and displayed what some have called a deft touch in handling protests by ethnic Mongols. Data on Hu's connections can be seen on Reuters' Connected China site, http://connectedchina.reuters.com/.
Despite having a reputation as more of a moderate and a reformer, Hu sent back Inner Mongolia's most notable Mongol dissident, Hada, to jail almost as soon as he completed a 15-year sentence for separatism in late 2010.
Cheng says what has happened in Shangpu is fairly typical for Chinese administrators who want to quickly defuse tension flashpoints, but also drive home the message that the party's writ remains supreme.
"It's a kind of carrot and stick policy. They want to negotiate, to settle the issue," he said. "But they'd also like to indicate that they're quite prepared to crack down."
Hours after the crackdown, Guangdong's Political and Law Committee reiterated on its Weibo microblog account that Shangpu's land contract had been scrapped, and the village chief detained along with more than 10 others.
Over the past week, village anger and defiance over the contradictory signals is being slowly replaced by a grudging acceptance that the worst may be over.
Seven gutted cars left on a village street as a symbol of continued resistance were cleared away on Tuesday without incident. Villagers, however, continue to place joss sticks at a makeshift roadside shrine seeking Buddha's blessing for justice, given nagging fears of fresh reprisals and land grabs in future.
"No senior leaders have come to speak with us directly, but hopefully they've now heard our voices," said Li Huqiang, whose bandaged head was struck by a tear gas bullet.
Li said despite Shangpu's tribulations, he retained faith in top party officials like Hu Chunhua to enshrine rural rights and justice by ensuring an irrefutable return of their farmland.
"Only they can get rid of corruption in our village. They're the only people with the power to help us."
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 13 Mar 2013 08:12 PM PDT
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's election as pope has broken Europe's centuries-old grip on the papacy, opening the doors on a new age of simplicity and humility for the Roman Catholic Church, mired in intrigue and scandal.
He is the first South American pontiff, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first to take the name Pope Francis, in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty.
His elevation on the second day of a closed-door conclave of cardinals came as a surprise, with many Vatican watchers expecting a longer deliberation, and none predicting the conservative 76-year-old Bergoglio would get the nod.
He looked as startled as everyone, hesitating a moment on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica before stepping out to greet the huge crowds gathered in the square below to catch a glimpse of the new pontiff.
"I ask a favour of you ... pray for me," he urged the cheering crowds, telling them the 114 other cardinal-electors "went almost to the end of the world" to find a new leader.
He also offered a prayer to his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who resigned unexpectedly last month, after saying he was too frail to tackle the many problems assailing the world's largest organisation, which has an estimated 1.2 billion members.
"Good night and have a good rest," Bergoglio said before disappearing back into the opulent surroundings of the Vatican City - a far cry from his simple apartment in Buenos Aires.
Delighted priests, nuns and pilgrims danced around the obelisk in the middle of St. Peter's Square, chanting: "Long Live the Pope" and "Argentina, Argentina".
In his native Argentina, jubilant Catholics poured into their local churches to celebrate.
"I hope he changes all the luxury that exists in the Vatican, that he steers the Church in a more humble direction, something closer to the gospel," said Jorge Andres Lobato, a 73-year-old retired state prosecutor.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION
The 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history, Francis is taking the helm at a time of great crisis, with morale among the faithful hit by a widespread child sex abuse scandal and infighting in the Vatican bureaucracy.
His unexpected election answered some fundamental questions about the direction of the Church in the coming years.
After more than a millennium of European leadership, the cardinal-electors looked to Latin America, where 42 percent of the world's Catholics live. The continent is more focused on poverty and the rise of evangelical churches than questions of materialism and sexual abuse, which dominate in the West.
They also chose a man with long pastoral experience, rather than an academic and Vatican insider like Benedict.
"It seems that this pope will be more aware of what life is all about," Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli told Reuters.
Bergoglio was born into a family of seven, his father an Italian immigrant railway worker and his mother a housewife. He became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies.
Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years. é"€ Bergoglio has a reputation as someone willing to challenge powerful interests and has had a sometimes difficult relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan," and is expected to pursue the uncompromising moral teachings of Benedict and John Paul II.
Not everyone liked the look of his profile.
"I think they missed an opportunity to renew themselves. They've picked another old guy," said Daniel Villalpando, a 32-year-old web designer in Mexico City. "Sure, he's a Latino, but they got the most European of the Latinos."
Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to become pope. The order was founded in the 16th century to serve the papacy and is best known for its work in education and for the intellectual prowess of its members.
"I did not expect to see him in white tonight. I think it was a surprise, but it shows the courage of the cardinals to decide to cross the ocean and therefore to broaden perspectives," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
The Vatican said his inaugural Mass would be held on Tuesday. U.S. President Barack Obama said the election of Francis "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world."
In preparatory meetings before the conclave, the cardinals seemed divided between those who believed the new pontiff must be a strong manager to get the dysfunctional bureaucracy under control and others who were looking more for a proven pastoral figure to revitalise their faith across the globe.
Bergoglio was a rival candidate at the 2005 conclave to Benedict, but his name had not appeared on lists of possible contenders this time around, with many discounting him because of his age, thinking prelates wanted a younger leader.
The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first inconclusive ballot. Three more inconclusive ballots were held on Wednesday before Francis obtained the required two-thirds majority of 77 votes in the fifth and final vote.
Billowing white smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica rang out to announce the news, drawing Romans and tourists to the Vatican.
"May God forgive you," Bergoglio said to the cardinals at a subsequent dinner, raising loud laughter, according to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
He is due to make a private visit to a Rome basilica on Thursday and then meet Benedict, who is secluded in the papal summer residence outside Rome. Francis will celebrate a Mass with cardinals in the late afternoon.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby, Naomi O'Leary, Tom Heneghan, Barry Moody and Keith Weir; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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