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China's Government Promises Improvements As Congress Opens

China's government promised to fight corruption, improve the environment and grow the economy as its annual parliamentary session got underway Tuesday.

Thousands of delegates from across the country have gathered amid heavy security in Beijing for the 13-day session of the National People's Congress that will complete China's once-a-decade leadership change.

Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao delivered his last government work report at the opening session. He said China faces a difficult task in correcting China's unbalanced economic growth and income disparity.

"Economic development is increasingly in conflict with resource conservation and environmental protection. The development gap between urban and rural areas and between regions is large, and so are income disparities between individuals."

Mr. Wen said the economic growth target for China this year is 7.5 percent, similar to last year, and that the government will fight to curb inflation. Defense spending will increase by almost 11 percent.

During the meeting of the largely ceremonial congress, Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping will formally take over the presidency from Hu Jintao. Li Keqiang will succeed Mr. Wen as prime minister.

China's new leadership faces an increasingly vocal population that is calling for action on issues such as corruption, pollution, and human rights.

One delegate at the congress, Jin Zhanzhong, says many people in his rural province of Liaoning want the Communist Party to fight corruption.

"Rural people pay great attention to the problem of corruption. Our party has the ability and the leadership to manage the party and to develop the country."

In his speech, Mr. Wen promised the government would "unwaveringly" fight corruption, a problem that the Communist Party has recently said could threaten its hold on power.

Mr. Wen also promised further efforts to restore China's battered environment, saying Beijing should focus on reducing energy consumption, improving conservation and solving air, soil and water pollution.

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