China's Hu makes himself more accountable

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BEIJING, Oct 15 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao and other members of the Communist Party's ruling inner core, the Politburo, will be accountable to a wider party membership under potentially far-reaching reforms pledged by Hu himself today.

Hu made the pledge as part of efforts to find viable checks and balances to curb official corruption but made it clear the Communist Party would continue to monopolise power in the world's most populous nation and fourth-biggest economy.

''We will establish a healthy system under which the Politburo regularly reports its work to plenary sessions of the Central Committee and accepts (Central Committee) oversight,'' Hu told more than 2,200 delegates at the opening of the Party's 17th Congress. He did not elaborate.

Hu sits on the decision-making Politburo, which is down to 22 full members and one alternate after Vice Premier Huang Ju died in June and Shanghai Party boss Chen Liangyu lost his job in September last year.

Chen faces trial for corruption, the most senior official ensnared in a graft scandal since 1995 when another Politburo member, Beijing Party boss Chen Xitong (no relation), was sacked, arrested and jailed for 16 years on similar charges.

The Central Committee, ranked one notch below the Politburo, has 198 members, whose five-year term ends this week. A new Central Committee will be elected on Sunday.

''We will ... explore various ways to expand intra-Party democracy at the grassroots level,'' Hu said, reading from a prepared statement.

''We must enforce stricter oversight over the whole process of selecting and appointing cadres.'' Public discontent with corruption and a yawning wealth gap have led to rising protests nationwide.

Alarmed by social unrest, Hu is steering the party towards reforms that would make officials more accountable, but the instinctively cautious leader has no wish to risk his position.

The Party has resisted calls for Western-style democracy, fearing radical change would threaten its grip on power.

''We must uphold the Party's role as the core of leadership in directing the overall situation,'' Hu said.

REUTERS SS RK1410

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