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China's Premier Opens Parliament with Promises to Spread Prosperity, Ease Tensions


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is promising to boost funding for education and healthcare for the poor, and to do more to protect the country's environment in the face of breakneck growth. Wen's remarks came at the opening Monday of this year's session of the National People's Congress, China's parliament. VOA correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

Premier Wen Jiabao's pledge to assist China's poorest comes as the communist government deals with growing unrest in the countryside - where many have not benefited from the nation's rapid economic growth.

"(We will) persist in (the principle) of putting people first to promote faster progress in solving the most immediate and practical problems…to safeguard fairness and allow all people to enjoy the achievements of reform and development," he said.

Wen spoke to the gathering of nearly 3,000 delegates, whom at the end of the two-week legislative session will give symbolic approval to a series of new measures put forth by the Communist Party leadership.

With much fanfare, the delegates assembled in Beijing's huge Great Hall of the People for the start of the session.

The Communist leadership is under pressure to address the types of things that have caused unrest, such as land seizures and environmental abuses that are ruining farmers' livelihoods.

In his remarks Monday, Wen said the government will take strong - but unspecified - measures to protect the environment, improve land use, and lower energy consumption.

As to specifics on this year's legislative agenda: there will be a nationwide allowance system for poor families to meet the minimum cost of living, corporate tax reform and a new law to safeguard private property. The property measure had been held up by hardliners in the party who saw this as contrary to socialist doctrine.

In his two-hour speech Monday, Premier Wen noted China's economy is projected to grow by about eight percent this year. Although experts say growth is likely to be closer to 10 percent, as it has been for the past several years.

Wen also pledged to accelerate the modernization of China's armed forces. This came a day after China announced it is boosting its military budget by nearly 18 percent this year.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, speaking during a stop in Beijing Sunday, said the U.S. remains concerned about what he says is the lack of transparency surrounding China's military buildup.