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Li Peng Bows Out - 2003-03-10

The man most associated with the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in China's Tiananmen Square has given his political farewell speech. China's parliament chief Li Peng stayed true to his conservative views in parting words to the National People's Congress.

The 74-year old Li Peng acknowledged his time in the political spotlight is over in what is expected to be his final speech Monday in Beijing.

The parliament chief for the last five years is widely credited with slightly strengthening the role of National People's Congress - a body traditionally viewed as a rubber stamp legislature.

Mr. Li says the NPC under his tenure has improved legislative work and raised the quality of laws it has passed.

The adopted son of the late premier, Zhou Enlai, Li Peng never wavered from his conservative pedigree among the Communist Party's old guard.

In his one-hour speech, Mr. Li told the body he headed that its true mission was to be a tool for the Communist Party and implement its policies.

While emphasizing that China remains a one-party system, he says delegates should also be responsive to the views and aspirations of the people.

But Mr. Li stressed it was important that the views of the people be the same as the Communist Party's. He called on the National People's Congress to ensure that the Chinese people willingly assume the opinions of the party as their own.

Prior to becoming parliament chairman, Mr. Li was known best for his decision while premier to implement martial law during the pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square. That led to a bloody military crackdown that left hundreds and perhaps thousands of people dead.

Human rights groups say the government has never given a full accounting of the events 14 years ago or what happened to more than a hundred missing people.

Li Peng has become the symbol of harsh repression of dissent and has been criticized abroad and unpopular with many Chinese at home.

The 74-year old however is leaving politics amid a sweeping leadership change that is ushering in a new generation of Communist Party officials. They will have to deal with major market reforms and the growing influence of private entrepreneurs in a party philosophically opposed to capitalism.

Mi Li is expected to be replaced by Vice Premier Wu Bangguo when the NPC ends its annual session next week.