Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Hu's 'heir-apparent' given responsibility for Beijing Olympics

AFP , HONG KONG

China has appointed a rising political star to oversee preparations for the Beijing Olympics, as pressure mounts over air pollution and human rights concerns, a report said yesterday.

Xi Jinping (習近平), seen by many as an heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), will be in charge of organizing the huge security operation and defusing international concerns over air pollution in Beijing, the South China Morning Post said.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said his appointment was meant to show the world the Games had the government's full attention ahead of the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

The move comes after reports that Xi has been put in charge of preparations for the 30th anniversary of China's introduction of economic reforms, which have transformed the country into a leading international economy.

Xi, 54, was elected to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee last year.

Liu Qi (劉淇), Beijing party secretary and a Politburo member, was previously the central government's point man in handling the preparatory work. Sources said he will still play a key role, the report added.

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge last year warned that endurance events such as the marathon could be postponed or canceled to protect competitors from the poor air quality.

China has faced repeated international criticism in the run-up to the Games, in particular for its clampdown on dissent.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a report last year that at least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents were being detained, often for articles critical of the government.

Last month, Ethiopian running great Haile Gebrselassie's manager said the world record holder could withdraw from the marathon at this year's Beijing Olympics because of fears the air pollution could bring an early end to his career.

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