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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 14:42 GMT
Chinese reformer 'retires' early
Parliament Chairman Li Peng (L) chats with top adviser Li Ruihuan (C) and politburo member Wei  Jianxing
Mr Li (centre) appears to have been given no role
Chinese senior leader Li Ruihuan appears to have been forced into early retirement as part of the leadership changes underway in Beijing.

Mr Li, 68, had initially been seen as a potential winner from the current reshuffle, being mentioned as a future head of China's parliament.

Jiang Zemin (AFP photo)
Mr Jiang is thought to have wanted Mr Li out
Instead he has not even been elected to the Party Central Committee - preventing him from assuming any role in the new Politburo.

Analysts said Mr Li's fall from power appeared to be part of an attempt by out-going Party chief Jiang Zemin to retain influence at the top.

Mr Jiang appears to have filled the powerful Politburo standing committee with his supporters, to protect his legacy and family interests.

He is thought to have seen Mr Li as a threat to his group.

Down to earth

Described as an affable and straight-talking operator, Mr Li was widely seen as a liberal who was thought to favour a freer press and greater transparency in the Communist Party.

As mayor of Tianjin in the 1980s, he held phone-in programmes on the local media in order to tackle the public's concerns.

Mr Li's hands-on, no-nonsense, approach meant he was reportedly scathing of Party opacity.

He was also said to be in favour of greater accountability on the Party in terms of its past.

Jiang-Li rivalry

Mr Li and Mr Jiang have been rivals for some years.

Since Mr Jiang's promotion to Party chief, he is thought to have been irritated by Mr Li's insistence on using the informal "Old Jiang" to address him.

It is thought that Zeng Qinghong, Mr Jiang's closest adviser and henchman, has long been plotting to oust Mr Li on his mentor's behalf.


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