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China to Commemorate Reformer's Birth

China's leadership has decided to commemorate the birth of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, a purged reformist whose death led to the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. Analysts say President Hu Jintao wants to use the commemoration to improve his own image, but they doubt the Chinese government is ready to reassess its use of military force in 1989 against unarmed demonstrators demanding democracy.

The Chinese government Tuesday announced plans for a public observance of the 90th birthday of Hu Yaobang, who was dismissed as Communist Party General Secretary in 1987.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, announced the memorial plans at a regular press briefing.

"Commemorative activities marking the 90th anniversary of the birth of Hu Yaobang will be held in Beijing in mid-November," said Liu Jianchao. "China's central leadership will attend and will give a speech."

Mr. Liu did not say which Chinese leaders would attend the ceremonies nor what might be said about Mr. Hu's political career.

The Chinese Communist Party has not publicly honored Hu Yaobang since his death in April of 1989.

Among other things, Mr. Hu was responsible for rehabilitating vast numbers of people who were purged and demonized during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a violent political campaign of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was popular with the people, but in 1987, he clashed with then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, after Mr. Hu refused to halt a wave of student unrest. He was dismissed as party leader.

Public mourning for Mr. Hu in April of 1989 turned into popular protests against corruption and calls for democracy. Demonstrators filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square for weeks on end, throughout May and into early June. The night of June 3-4, the government put the demonstrations down with military force.

Deng Xiaoping, who ordered the crackdown, later said it was necessary to prevent anarchy. The Communist Party has since steadfastly resisted calls to reassess the use of force in 1989, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people.

Che Po Chan, an assistant professor of politics at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, says Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also the current Communist Party general secretary, wants to associate himself with Hu Yaobang's reformist image.

"The main reason for this commemoration is Hu Jintao wants to gain some prestige for himself under the present situation," said Che Po Chan. "In the last three years since he came to his position, there is still a lot of suppression to the dissidents in China. Hu Yaobang has a very good image."

But Mr. Chan says the upcoming commemoration is not likely to lead to a reassessment of the party's 1989 actions.