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Li Keqiang named China's new premier

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

China's parliament installed bureaucrat Li Keqiang as premier Friday, putting him in charge of running the world's second-largest economy in a final step of a landmark power transition.

Li, who is expected to be in office for a decade, faces the challenge of weaning the the country towards more balanced development, with domestic consumption by a larger middle class playing a greater role.

"I announce that comrade Li Keqiang has been chosen as premier of the People's Republic of China," said Yan Junqi, a vice-chairwoman of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's rubberstamp parliament.

To applause from delegates in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Li stood up, bowed and shook hands with Xi Jinping, who was formally appointed as China's new president Thursday, and his predecessor as premier Wen Jiabao.

Li received 2,940 votes out of 2,949 cast, with three votes against and six abstentions. Like Xi's election the day before, the result had never been in doubt.

Li, Xi and other top leaders took charge of the Communist party, where real power lies, four months ago, and their stage-managed selection to the top government posts during this week's NPC formalises their authority.

The premier is technically nominated by the president and reviewed by the legislators, and the term officially lasts five years but is normally followed by a second one, totalling a decade in office.

Xi has more authority to set policy than Li. In the past the premier has been the face of government, making public appearances when disaster strikes and looking to reassure the public.

However, Li, a 57-year-old English-speaking career bureaucrat, will oversee a sprawling portfolio of domestic and economic affairs.

He takes charge of the world's second-largest economy as its breakneck growth has steadily slowed and the need to rebalance away from investment and exports and towards domestic consumption looms.

In his position as one of Wen's vice-premiers, observers have praised him for helping China navigate the global financial crisis and pushing forward efforts to restructure the economy.

But like Wen he may face resistance to change among the provinces and ministries.

Li will run the State Council, or cabinet, along with a number of vice-premiers -- who will be named on Saturday -- and state councillors, and will oversee several dozen ministries and commissions.

The son of a party official in the poor eastern province of Anhui, Li was sent to the countryside to do manual labour as were many youths during the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

While overseeing central Henan province in the 1990s, he was criticised for dealing poorly with an HIV/AIDS epidemic that resulted from a tainted blood donation scheme, targeting activists and the media rather than officials.

He is expected to hold a rare press conference at the close of the NPC on Sunday.

Zhou Qiang, a former Communist party secretary of Hunan province who is seen as an associate of ex-leader Hu Jintao, was also named president of China's supreme court on Thursday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130315/li-keqiang-named-chinas-new-premier