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Ailing Zhao puts China on alert

By Willy Lam for CNN

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Zhao addresses students in a Tiananmen Square bus in May 1989.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- China's state security is on high alert to prevent any disturbances that may follow the possible death of former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.

Sources close to the family said Zhao, 84, was suffering from severe lung malfunctioning following a pneumonia attack two months ago.

Zhao was againt the use of force in the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and has been held under house arrest ever since he was subsequently ousted as party chief.

And in a long-standing tradition for influential party elders -- even disgraced ones -- the CCP General Office last week issued a bingwei or "medical emergency warning" to party cadres.

Former president Jiang Zemin, who succeeded Zhao as party general secretary in late June 1989, has sent a team to monitor Zhao's condition.

"The former party chief's health had until recently been largely adequate for a man of his age, but he has had lung problems since the late 1990s," a source close to Zhao said.

Diplomatic analysts say President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are taking no chances ahead of the 15th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing.

Several dissidents associated with the democracy movement, including Professor Ding Ziling, a leader of the "Tiananmen Mothers," have either been detained or are under 24-hour surveillance.

State security personnel have also been deployed to watch over Bao Tong, Zhao's former political secretary who has called for extensive political reforms.

And a strict gagging order has also been imposed on Dr Jiang Yanyong, who recently publicized a petition calling for the reappraisal of the 1989 student movement.

Jiang was recently severely criticized for a breach of discipline in a sternly worded internal circular from the People's Liberation Army.

Professor Wu Guoguang, an aide to Zhao in the mid-1980s, said factional rivalry within the CCP's top echelon might

worsen in the event of the former party chief's demise.

"Disagreement can occur between the Hu-Wen leadership on the one hand and beneficiaries of the June 4 crackdown such as [ex-president] Jiang Zemin and [former premier] Li Peng on the other," Wu said.

"For example, what kind of funeral to give the former No. 1 cadre? And will the obituary contain any positive reference to Zhao"s many contributions to economic reform?"

Wu, who teaches politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said both Hu and Wen -- who were trying to cultivate the image of a liberal and caring leader -- would certainly not concur with Jiang or Li's hardline views on Zhao.

Political observers in Beijing said a division in the party might give an opportunity to reform-oriented intellectuals to drum up support for a mass-based movement to hasten the pace of political liberalization.

The 1989 democracy movement got much of its initial momentum from the death of another disgraced party general secretary, Hu Yaobang, who died on April 15 that year.

Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao are widely seen as standard-bearers of political and economic reform -- as well as cadres devoted to the welfare of the people.


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