03/15/2013, 00.00
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NPC votes in new PM Li Keqiang

Viewed as a cautious reformer, China's Number 2 man was involved in one of the country's worst health scandals, that of AIDS-tainted blood transfusions, which he tried to cover up with an iron-fist. Now he will be in charge of economic affairs.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - This morning, the National People's Congress appointed Li Keqiang as China's new prime minister in replacement of Wen Jiabao. Li, who is also number two in the Politburo Standing Committee, was voted in by the 3,000 or so delegates attending the annual session of China's 'parliament'. They did the same for party boss Xi Jinping, who was elected to the presidency yesterday.

Seen as cautious reformer, on several occasions, Li, 57, said that China could avoid changes. However, as Xi Jinping has stressed in the past, priority must be given to a balance between economic growth, which is currently around 7 per cent, and the welfare of the population.

As part of his new responsibilities, the new premier will be in charge of the country's economic affairs, including finances and tax policy, a touchy area for the world's second largest economy at a time of economic slowdown. Last year's GDP grew in fact by 7.8 per cent, the lowest rate in 13 years.

Born in Anhui province in 1955 to a father who was a county-level government official, Li joined the Communist Party in 1976 after spending two years working in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, an experience shared by many Chinese political leaders. Eventually, he became party boss in his local production unit in Fengyang County, Anhui.

In 1982, he earned a law degree from the prestigious Peking University, followed a few years later by a master in economics.

After joining the Communist Youth League at university, he began working with its general secretary, Hu Jintao, who eventually became China's president and party leader, as well the dominant figure of the party's 'fourth generation'. In fact, many analysts expected Li Keqiang to succeed Hu as China's strongman.  

Before he joined the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007, Li served as the governor of Henan province, and later as party chief in Liaoning.

During his tenure in Henan (1998-2003), he tried to cover up one of the worst AIDS-related crises that ever broke out in China, that of tainted blood transfusions.

In an attempt to protect local health authorities, Li used an iron-fist against activists and patients. For this, he is viewed by many as an accomplice in the cover-up.

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