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China Prepares to Open Annual Legislative Session

China's National People's Congress - the country's top legislature - is preparing to open its annual session on Saturday with security issues in focus. Topping a busy agenda for Chinese lawmakers is an anti-secession law that analysts say could give China the legal basis to attack rival Taiwan.

China's intentions toward Taiwan are getting most of the attention here in Beijing ahead of the annual legislative session. At issue is the anti-secession bill, which has Taiwan nervous China may use it as a legal basis for forcing Taiwan to reunite with the communist mainland.

That coupled with a projected 12.6 percent military spending increase to almost $30 billion has caused a stir.

But National People's Congress spokesman, Jiang Enzhu, told reporters Friday the anti-secession bill and spending hike are not a prelude for war. "China's anti-secession law is not a war mobilization act," he said. "It is by no means targeted against the Taiwan compatriots."

Mr. Jiang says this year's rise in military spending will cover soldiers' wages, retirement pensions, and unspecified equipment purchases. He did not give details on the content of the anti-secession bill.

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory - despite the island being self-governed since 1949 after China's civil war gave Communists control of the mainland.

Chinese lawmakers are also expected to approve $24 billion to help the country's impoverished farmers. Closing the widening gap between urban rich and the rural poor has been high on President Hu Jintao's agenda since he took office in 2003.

At this National People's Congress session, deputies will also approve the resignation of former president Jiang Zemin as chairman of the State Central Military Commission - his last official government post.

The meeting, which is due conclude on March 14, will also include discussions on religious rights, renewable energy and a ban on gender-selection abortions.

Analysts regard the annual N.P.C. as a largely symbolic event at which deputies give near unanimous approval to legislation drafted well in advance by the higher echelons of the Communist leadership.

Security has been tightened around the Chinese capital in recent days as thousands of deputies arrive from around the country.

Extra police were deployed Friday to patrol the areas around Beijing's Great Hall of the People - the site of the meeting. Officials this week said they had stepped up surveillance of the Internet in a bid to stamp out any sign of a disturbance or protest.