Work on China leadership change 'smooth': paper

BEIJING - China's top communist party newspaper said Sunday that preparations for a key meeting to set the country's next leadership were smooth, despite a festering political scandal.

The People's Daily said work to hold a party congress for a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year was proceeding, as the country marked the 91st anniversary of the party's founding on Sunday.

But the mouthpiece made no mention of the recent ouster of top leader Bo Xilai, which analysts say exposed deep rifts within the ruling party.

"Preparation work for the 18th party congress is being carried out smoothly," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"The party and the people welcome the 18th party congress with full confidence... This is a key moment," it said.

The editorial called for increasing the fight against corruption, saying it was one of the biggest risks to the party, but made no mention of specific cases.

Bo, the charismatic former party leader of Chongqing city once tipped for the very highest echelons of power in China, was formally suspended from the powerful 25-member Politburo in April.

His wife, Gu Kailai, was also detained for suspected involvement in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. The party has yet to make an announcement on their fates.

Bo had been widely expected to be named to the party's nine-member Politburo standing committee - the nation's highest ruling body - in the leadership transition.

The newspaper hailed China's recent achievements, including a space mission ended on Friday and the 15th anniversary on Sunday of the return of Hong Kong, the former British colony, to Chinese rule.

In the last ten years, China's economy had become the world's second largest, improving people's livelihoods, it said.

China's communist party had more than 82.6 million members last year, state media said Sunday, representing a total population of more than 1.3 billion.

The Chinese Communist Party traces its founding to a meeting held in Shanghai in July, 1921, when delegates gathered at a school in the city's then French Concession.

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