China anoints Xi as new leader

Updated 16 November 2012
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China anoints Xi as new leader

BEIJING: China’s all-powerful Communist Party unveiled yesterday a new seven-man leadership council steered by Xi Jinping to take command of the country for the next decade.
After striding out in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People as the party’s new general-secretary, succeeding President Hu Jintao, Xi vowed to fight official corruption and build a “better life” for the nation’s 1.3 billion people.
Xi’s long-expected ascent to the apex of national politics was confirmed when he emerged onto the stage in front of the other six members of the elite Politburo Standing Committee, after a week-long party congress.
Xi, 59, has an impeccable political pedigree as the son of a lieutenant to revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. He will formally replace Hu as state president when the rubber-stamp legislature confirms the appointment in March.
“We are not complacent, and we will never rest on our laurels,” Xi said in his first address to the nation, standing in front of his colleagues on the new committee — all men, who all bar one wore red ties.
The new committee has been slimmed from nine members to seven, a change analysts said would ease decision-making at the consensus-driven heights of the Communist Party as China faces rapid change on a host of fronts.
“Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved,” Xi said, highlighting graft and alienation from citizens.
“We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert.”
Xi appeared confident and far more relaxed than his stiff predecessor Hu, starting out with a disarming apology for the speech’s late start and then talking about ordinary people in plain language.
Some users of the nation’s popular Twitter-like microblogs welcomed the speech, with its lack of Communist jargon or mention of socialist heroes, as a refreshing departure.
“I hope the new crop of leaders will not disappoint the people’s hopes, will innovate and reform, and courageously strive to create a democratic and constitutional new nation,” wrote one user.
Xi’s standing at the top of China’s opaque power structure was consolidated with his appointment as chief of the nation’s vast military as head of the Central Military Commission.
Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin had clung on to that job for two years after relinquishing the presidency, preventing him from taking full control of China.
In second place in the new Politburo Standing Committee was current Vice Premier Li Keqiang, whose promotion puts him in line to be appointed premier in charge of the nation’s day-to-day economic administration in March.
The spectacle marked the climax of years of jockeying within the secretive party, which brooks little dissent to its monopoly on political power but which has had to take new account of the public’s demands in the age of social media.
Analysts said that despite calls from Xi, Hu and others for reform, the new leadership line-up appeared to have a conservative slant, but also stressed that continuity and stability reigned supreme in the communist system.
“I think that this is the result of compromise and consensus among different groups,” Chinese University of Hong Kong associate professor Tsao King Kwun said.
The process was essentially finalized Wednesday when the party ended its week-long congress by announcing a new 200-strong Central Committee.
The seven men who hold innermost power are tasked with addressing a rare deceleration of economic growth that threatens the party’s key claim to legitimacy — continually improving the livelihoods of the country’s people.
China also bubbles with localized unrest sparked by public rage at corruption, official abuses, and the myriad manifestations of anger among the millions left out of the country’s economic boom.


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 48 min 22 sec ago
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.

MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.