Hu aims to boost authority at China Party meet

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BEIJING, Oct 15 (Reuters) Chinese leader Hu Jintao's vows to spread prosperity more equally and his closed-door battle to enhance his own power converge today at the Communist Party's biggest political meeting in five years.

The 17th Congress, at which Hu is sure to draw dutiful applause from more than 2,200 delegates, will enshrine his slogans and name likely successors in a show of unity by the ruling Party that governs more than 1.3 billion people and the world's fourth biggest economy.

Police were out in force in Beijing ahead of the Congress, with shows of force outside major hotels hosting delegates and around Tiananmen Square, the political heart of China.

''Look at all those police. Not even a bird could fly over,'' observed cab driver Wang Jiandong as he passed the Great Hall of the People, decked out with scores of red flags and where Hu will deliver his address to open the Congress.

Dissidents have been detained and thousands of petitioners rounded up to stop them lobbying officials directly with calls for justice.

Since he succeeded Jiang Zemin as Party chief in 2002, Hu has promoted a ''harmonious society'' that grafts efforts to spread wealth more equally on to the nation's market-driven economy.

That slogan, and Hu's notion of a ''scientific outlook of development'' that aims to balance growth with environmental sustainability, are set to be written into key Party documents -- a victory for Hu in a system where ideological formulas are a currency of political power.

The big question at the Congress, however, will be whether Hu's symbolic elevation will be mirrored in behind-the-scenes jockeying over leaders to replace officials installed under Jiang, who focused on shepherding China into the global economy.

Signs are that -- as in broader policy -- the gathering of officials and carefully vetted grassroots delegates will usher in measured change rather than a dramatic break.

Jiang and other retired officials are scheduled to appear at the Congress opening in the cavernous Great Hall of the People, along with model workers, military commanders, entrepreneurs and other delegates, underscoring the stress on political continuity that can give older leaders lingering influence.

SUCCESSORS The Congress is set to promote two provincial leaders in their early 50s -- Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang -- to a nine-seat Politburo Standing Committee.

This makes them frontrunners to succeed Hu and government chief Premier Wen Jiabao five years hence, sources told Reuters.

Vice President Zeng Qinghong -- a powerful figure in his own right but also long close to Jiang -- is likely to leave the political stage, giving Hu more scope to exert authority.

In endorsing potential successors, the meeting looks set to favour a mixed team that will serve as bridges to different regions and constituencies in the increasingly disparate country.

Li, from the northeast province of Liaoning, shares Hu's roots in the Communist Youth League and has worked in both rural central China and more recently the industrial northeast.

Xi's experience in the prosperous eastern provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang has made him acceptable to officials eager to champion Jiang's legacy of growth.

Before the Congress opened, its spokesman doused expectations that the meeting could augur dramatic political change.

''Our political system reform is self-perfection and development of the socialist political system,'' Li Dongsheng told a news conference yesterday, vowing the Party would not ''copy the Western political system model''.

And despite Hu's vow of an increasingly harmonious society, stability and control clear remain a priority for wary leaders.

Reuters CS VP0535

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