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China eyes property ownership

BEIJING -- A secrecy-cloaked meeting of China's top communist leaders ended yesterday much as it began -- with oblique hints that the country's constitution would be revised to include private property ownership that was officially banned since the party took power 54 years ago.

The Communist Party closed its plenum with the broad promises that have characterized the new generation of leaders: pushing ahead with market reforms, elevating living standards and re-employing workers left jobless by economic reforms.

But nowhere did the government or party leader and President Hu Jintao, in a lengthy speech, confirm what diplomats and foreign analysts expected to take place -- adding private ownership to the constitution of an ostensibly communist land that is fast embracing the free market.

The hints, however, were everywhere.

"We should protect all kinds of property ownership -- and private ownership as well," China Central Television quoted the president as telling delegates. "Public ownership is the main pillar of China's economy," he said in a separate speech, released in Chinese by the government. "But we have to develop other kinds of ownership as well."

The official Xinhua News Agency said Hu also spoke of the importance of re-employing workers in China's industrial northeast -- a priority for Beijing. Private property rights are a key demand of China's entrepreneurs, and it would boost private investment.

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