09/19/2004, 00.00
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Xinhua: Jiang Zemin has stepped down

BEIJING (AsiaNews/Agencies)  - Former President Jiang Zemin turned over his last major post as chairman of the commission that runs China's military to his successor, Hu Jintao, the government said Sunday, completing the country's first peaceful leadership transition since its 1949 revolution.

Jiang, whose term was to have run until 2007, handed in his resignation during a meeting of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a brief dispatch.

The committee "approved Hu to take over the (Central Military Commission) chairmanship after accepting Jiang's resignation," Xinhua said. It did not say why Jiang chose to leave before his term was up.

Citing unidentified sources, The New York Times said on its Web site Saturday that the former president might possibly cite heart trouble or cancer as an excuse for an early exit. The 78-year-old Jiang, however, has given no public sign of illness.

Xu Caihou, 61, will replace Hu as deputy chairman, Xinhua said. In 1999, Xu became a vice director in the People's Liberation Army, China's massive military.

Jiang's retirement would complete the first peaceful leadership transition since the Communists took power in 1949.

Hu, 62, took over as party leader in 2002 and became president early the following year in a long-planned handover to younger leaders. Jiang retained his influence after 13 years as party leader by holding on to his military post _ along with its power and privileges _ when he stepped down.

Jiang, a former Shanghai mayor, was plucked from obscurity by then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping to lead the party in 1989 after pro-democracy protests and an internal power struggle threatened to tear it apart. Deng nominated Hu as Jiang's successor in the early 1990s, setting in motion a succession that was just completed.

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