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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
China's leaders tackle corruption
Hu Jintao, Chinese president , 15 Sept 2004
In a speech before the talks, Mr Hu ruled out Western-style political reform
China's Communist Party leaders have opened a key annual meeting likely to focus on shoring up the party's rule.

Leaders want to improve the party's accountability and transparency, as well as tackle the mounting corruption undermining its credibility.

The four-day annual meeting is taking place amid speculation about a power struggle between President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

Mr Jiang is said to be being pressed to resign his last post, as military head.

The 198 members of the Communist Party's influential Central Committee met at top Beijing hotel on Thursday to begin their annual talks.

The meeting is taking place behind closed doors, and details are not due to be released until after the final session on Sunday.

But correspondents say the main item on the agenda is likely to be improved party governance.

Mr Hu, in power since 2002, wants to ensure the party retains its legitimacy by making it more responsive to public needs and cracking down on corruption.

Senior members of the Communist Party's Political Bureau, 15 Sept 2004
Mr Hu has ruled out changes from a one-party system
In a speech on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, Mr Hu said that changes were needed.

"Exercising power without restriction or supervision is bound to result in power abuse and corruption," Mr Hu said in a 50-minute speech broadcast live on state television.

"We must improve and strengthen the supervisory work of the people's congresses, and increase the effectiveness of their supervision," he said.

But he said that China would be led into a "blind alley" by copying Western political systems, and made clear that he wanted to maintain one-party rule.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, police detained thousands of petitioners who had come to Beijing to voice their grievances about local court rulings.

The BBC's Louisa Lim in Beijing says the sheer numbers of people flooding to the capital with such complaints are an indication of the scale of the challenge facing China's leaders.

Power struggle

The annual meeting may principally focus on party rule and corruption, but beneath the surface rumours are circulating about an apparent power struggle between Mr Hu and his predecessor Jiang Zemin, now China's military chief.

Pressure has reportedly been placed on Mr Jiang to resign from his post, consolidating Mr Hu's position as China's paramount leader. But many analysts doubt he will give up his remaining post now.

The two men differ on issues including macro economic policy and how to slow down the overheated economy, our correspondent says.

But there is unlikely to be public disagreement because both men are keen to maintain stability and strengthen Communist Party rule.

The BBC's Louisa Lim
"China's booming economy is actually a cause of some of the tension"

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