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Security Tight Ahead of Chinese Communist Party Congress

Beijing is blanketed with tight security ahead of the Communist Party Congress, a gathering that will set policies and promote new leaders for the next five years. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from the Chinese capital.

Over the past few days, the area around Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, where more than 2,000 communist party delegates will gather Monday, has been awash with police and security forces.

They are ready to prevent dissidents and petitioners, mostly aggrieved rural residents, from disrupting the proceedings.

The Communist Party Congress, held every five years, will elect new senior party leaders and decide on policies that will guide China's development in the next five years.

The congress is expected to endorse President Hu Jintao's "harmonious society" concept that envisions a stable China despite bubbling social discontent.

China faces wide-ranging problems arising from its rapid economic development such as corruption, pollution, high prices and land disputes. These problems have resulted in violent protests and riots in the countryside.

On Sunday, Party Congress spokesman Li Dongsheng told reporters that Chinese society is harmonious and stable on the whole.

Li says there have been in his words, "bad incidents", arising from China's development. But he said they are regional and individual in nature.

Li adds the "bad incidents" taking place in individual localities have been solved. He says there is social progress and people are satisfied.

But last week, 12,000 petitioners signed an open letter to the country's leaders demanding reforms and help for their problems.

Activists say the leader of the petitioners was detained Thursday.

Last week, the chief of China's public security bureau said "no efforts would be spared" by police from all over the country to "resolve disputes and uncertainties at grassroots levels".

Human rights groups say several dissidents, whistleblowers and petitioners have been detained or harassed in the weeks leading up to the Congress. Since September, the government has been demolishing an area known as the petitioners' village in suburban Beijing. There, people who come from outside the city stay while waiting for officials to consider their grievances.

In cyberspace, bloggers complain of tighter controls, with their posts disappearing or Web sites shut down by government censors.

The Congress opens on Monday, and ends on October 21.