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News >  Nation/World

Ousted Chinese leader dead at 85


Zhao 
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Zhao (The Spokesman-Review)
Joe McDonald Associated Press

BEIJING – Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party leader who helped launch China’s economic boom but was ousted after sympathizing with the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters, died today in a Beijing hospital. He was 85.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately announced, but the official Xinhua News Agency said Zhao suffered from multiple ailments of the respiratory and cardiovascular system and died “after failing to respond to all emergency treatment.”

“He was very peaceful,” said Frank Lu, a Hong Kong-based Chinese human rights activist who said he had spoken to Zhao’s daughter Wang Yannan. “He was surrounded by all his family.”

Zhao lived under house arrest for 15 years. A premature report of his death last week prompted the government to break its long silence about him and disclose that he had been hospitalized.

Zhao, a former premier and articulate protege of the late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, helped forge bold economic reforms in the 1980s that brought China new prosperity and flung open its doors to the outside world.

In the end, he fell out of favor with Deng and was purged on June 24, 1989, after the military crushed the student-led pro-democracy protests, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people. Zhao was accused of “splitting the party” by supporting demonstrators who wanted a faster pace of democratic reform.

The government took steps to minimize any public reaction to Zhao’s death. The official announcement to China’s people was limited to a two-sentence Xinhua report carried on Web sites. It wasn’t on the midday state television news, and CNN broadcasts to residences for foreigners were blacked out when they mentioned Zhao.

Police blocked reporters from entering the lane in central Beijing where Zhao lived under guard in a walled villa. Ren Wanding, a veteran dissident, said police showed up outside his Beijing home late this morning and were preventing him from leaving.

Zhao sometimes was seen teeing off at Beijing golf courses or paying respects at the funerals of dead comrades, but otherwise remained hidden.

Zhao served as premier in 1980-1987, then took over as general secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful post in China, under Deng, who remained paramount leader.

He helped initiate sweeping changes that invigorated an economy mired in the ruins of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Austere central planning gave way to material incentives and market forces that made China the world’s fastest-growing economy.

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