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China’s former president Jiang Zemin dies, aged 96

BEIJING - Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin died on Wednesday afternoon in Shanghai. He was 96.

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported Mr Jiang died of “leukaemia and multiple organ failure”.

Mr Jiang, who was the party’s general secretary from 1989 to 2002 and head of state from 1993 to 2003, leaves behind a Communist Party firmly in the grip of party leader Xi Jinping.

Mr Jiang had been rumoured to be in ill-health for some time, and was absent from the recent party congress in October at which many other party elders had attended.

He came to power in 1989, picked to lead the party and the country by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping following Zhao Ziyang’s ouster after the Tiananmen incident. Mr Zhao had opposed the bloody crackdown of the student demonstrations in the heart of the Chinese capital.

Mr Jiang, then Shanghai’s party secretary, had caught Mr Deng’s eye for quelling the protest in Shanghai without bloodshed.

Xinhua’s official obituary paid tribute to Mr Jiang as an “outstanding leader of high prestige”, and said the third-generation leader had come to lead the party at a time of “serious political turmoil”.

During his time in power, Mr Jiang continued Mr Deng’s policy of economic reforms and opening up, presiding over a decade of breakneck economic growth as China became a manufacturing power and joined the World Trade Organisation.

He also oversaw the peaceful handover to China, of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997 and Macau from Portugal two years later.

At a time when critics of Mr Xi say he intends to rule for life, Mr Jiang will be remembered for handing over power peacefully to his successor Hu Jintao in 2002. 

At the recent party congress, Mr Xi had received a landmark third term in power, surrounding himself with his proteges and allies. During his time in power, he had sidelined Mr Jiang’s Shanghai faction.

As China’s former paramount leader, Mr Jiang is expected to receive a grand state funeral. The funeral committee is being led by Mr Xi and runs to almost 600 members, according to list released by state media.

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