China kicks off reshuffle ahead of leadership handover

BEIJING Tue Jul 3, 2012 8:22am EDT

1 of 3. Middle school students hold cardboards featuring the emblems of the Communist Party of China as they pose for photographs during an event to celebrate the party's 91st anniversary, in Suining, Sichuan province June 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/China Daily

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China kicked off the first major step in a political reshuffle ahead of a generational leadership change with the appointment on Tuesday of a new Communist Party boss for Beijing, the Chinese capital's top official.

Guo Jinlong, 64, the city's mayor since 2008 and an ally of President Hu Jintao, replaces Liu Qi, 69, as Beijing party boss, in a decision announced at the end of the municipal party congress.

"We are keenly aware of our difficult task and grave responsibility," Guo told reporters. "We must strive to deliver satisfactory results for all the people of Beijing."

The appointment will allow Hu to retain some political influence after he leaves office. He must retire from running the party later this year and from the presidency in early 2013.

Reuters reported last month that Guo was the favorite for the position.

Guo is now expected to be a shoo-in to join the party's decision-making Politburo during the leadership change at the 18th national party congress later this year.

President Hu has not made public his plans for retirement but, unlike in the West where former presidents and prime ministers tend to fade from the public eye, Chinese leaders seek to maintain influence to avoid possible adverse political repercussions.

Hu, 69, is widely expected to hand the top job in the party to Vice President Xi Jinping during the national congress and will start promoting other allies to important posts before retiring.

Beijing's new mayor will be deputy party boss Wang Anshun, 54, two sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Wang is an economist previously in charge of law and order in the city. The party boss outranks the mayor.

Guo was party chief of President Hu's ancestral province of Anhui in central China from 2004 to 2007.

Guo was considered a moderate when he served as deputy party boss of Tibet from 1993 to 2000 and as party boss from 2000 to 2004. Hu was party boss of the Himalayan region from 1988 to 1992.

The Politburo has 24 members after Bo Xilai - former party boss in Chongqing and a leadership contender - had his membership suspended in April in a scandal that attracted worldwide attention.

Bo's lieutenant - Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun - briefly sought refuge at the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu in February and implicated Bo's wife in the murder of British businessman and Bo family friend Neil Heywood over a financial dispute.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim)

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