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China's Hu opens congress with corruption warning
China's outgoing President Hu Jintao opened a historic party congress on Thursday by issuing a warning over state corruption. Hu, who is expected to hand power to Vice President Xi Jinping, told delegates “nobody is above the law”.
China's president Thursday warned the Communist Party faces "collapse" if it fails to clean up corruption and called for an economic revamp as he opened a congress to inaugurate a new slate of leaders.
The week-long party congress is expected to end with a transition of power to Vice President Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade amid growing pressure for reform of the communist regime's iron-clad grip on power.
The party's outgoing general-secretary, President Hu Jintao, delivered his starkest warning yet about fighting rampant corruption following a top-level murder and graft scandal involving former regional boss Bo Xilai.
"If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state," Hu told more than 2,200 delegates inside Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People.
He also appeared to acknowledge growing pressure for reform by saying the party must change China's "political structure and make the people's democracy more extensive".
‘All equal before the law’
Referring to corruption, but without naming Bo Xilai, the president added that the party "must make sure that all are equal before the law".
There was more embarrassment in the lead-up to the congress with a New York Times report last month that said the family of premier Wen Jiabao had amassed $2.7 billion in "hidden riches".
And in June, business news agency Bloomberg published an investigation into the finances of Xi's extended family which it said totalled $376 million, although there was no indication of wrongdoing.
Leaders, Hu said, must exercise self-discipline and "supervision over their family and staff and they should never seek any privilege".
FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Douglas Herbert said the excessive wealth and allegations of corruption means the China’s Communist Party is no longer the respected institution it once was in the eyes of the people.
“The party is deeply unpopular which might not seem obvious because you would think the Chinese people would be deeply indoctrinated with Communist ideology,” Herbert said. “The reality is that only around 7 percent of the population are card-carrying members of the party.”
“The party itself is only Communist in name now. The people are looking at the leaders and see a growing class of self-enriching people running a despotic capitalist regime,” Herbert said. “The scales are beginning to fall from the eyes of the people”.
Hu's call for political reform also contrasted with the treatment meted out to would-be protesters outside the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.
An AFP reporter saw two elderly women hustled away from the vast esplanade as they attempted to present petitions -- in a long-standing tradition by which ordinary citizens protest wrongdoing including corruption and abuse of power.
In a metro station near the square, another group of up to 30 petitioners were surrounded and taken away by bus.
Hundreds of activists have been put under house arrest in the lead up to the congress, rights groups say, while Beijing taxi drivers have even been told to lock their back windows -- apparently to prevent passengers from throwing out flyers carrying political messages.
Meanwhile, the Tibetan government in exile in India said six Tibetans had set themselves on fire in China since Wednesday in an unprecedented string of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.
It was not immediately clear whether the immolation surge – individual incidents have taken place regularly since March 2001 – was timed for the congress.
On China's wildly popular social media websites, search terms related to the congress were censored but a few caustic responses to Hu's speech got through. "What a joke. My high school essays were better than that!" one posting said.
Hu said the secretive party faced "risks and challenges unknown before", an apparent reference to the uphill task it faces staying relevant in an increasingly open world.
The congress will end next week with the installation of Xi as the party's new general-secretary, and he is in line to succeed Hu as state president next March.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)