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Deng, China's paramount leader, dead at 92

February 19, 1997
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST

Latest developments:

BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who spurred his Communist country to open its economy to the world but who repressed pro-democracy demonstrators, died Wednesday. He was 92.

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Deng died of complications from Parkinson's disease and a lung infection.

Deng became paramount leader after the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976, and though he never officially held the titles of Communist Party chief or head of government, held sway with his larger-than-life political convictions and pragmatism.

The official announcement listed his age as 93. He was born August 22, 1904, but China adds a year to a person's age after the lunar new year, which fell earlier this month.

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World leaders react

President Clinton hailed Deng as "an extraordinary figure" and "the driving force behind China's decision to normalize relations with the United States." Deng visited the U.S. in 1979.

"China today plays an important role in world affairs in no small part because of Mr. Deng's decision to open his country to the outside world," Clinton said in a statement, which extended sympathy to China's President Jiang Zemin, Deng's widow Zhno Lin and the Chinese people.

Among other world leaders offering condolences were U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, French President Jacques Chirac and Britain's Prime Minister John Major.

But Chinese dissidents recalled the government's bloody suppression pro-democracy activists in 1989. The human rights organization Amnesty International said Deng's legacy includes "a well-oiled machinery for repression."

Clinton Calls China's Deng 'An Extraordinary Figure'
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Successor ready, but power struggle possible

President and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemen takes full power with Deng's death.

Jiang combines the largely symbolic title of president with the powerful roles of Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

But there are several others with Jiang in China's inner sanctum of power, who now formally face the pressures of economic reforms and international policy.

"I don't think anybody expects bloody conflict, or certainly not very quickly. But the struggle now will be joined in a very serious way," said Jerry Siegel of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

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Funeral plans being made

Jiang was appointed chairman of the funeral committee, which promptly said no dignitaries from abroad would be invited to the burial, Xinhua said. The date of the ceremony was not immediately announced.

The formation of the funeral committee is hugely significant in China's secretive political system, as its composition can signal the shift of power. All members of the 18-man Politburo were on the committee, as were two other veterans of China's Communist revolution, former President Yang Shangkun, 89, and former Parliament Chairman Peng Zhen, 95, both close colleagues of Deng.

With the announcement of Deng's death, the national flag went to half-staff in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.


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