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China: Property, yes; protest, no

By wire services
Published March 15, 2004

BEIJING - China's Parliament on Sunday formally approved constitutional amendments that address private property and human rights. At the same time, the country's new prime minister promised to rein in the overheated economy.

The steps came on the closing day of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, during which Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other top officials continued their efforts to recast the government as a protector of the poor and powerless.

Chinese legal experts and even lawmakers said the constitutional changes, which were decided in closed-door sessions of the ruling Communist Party last fall and formally approved Sunday, would not remove government restrictions on protest. China's Constitution is subordinate to the party and is amended often to reflect changes in official ideology.

"The constitution isn't a law," said Zhao Linzhong, a businessman and national legislator from Zhejiang. "The changes will settle people's minds."

The guarantee for privately owned property states, "Legally obtained private property of the citizens shall not be violated."

The amendment marked China's formal renunciation of Maoist doctrine that made owning property an evil. In effect, it put private property on an equal legal footing with state-owned property, a welcome change for foreign investors who have invested billions of dollars in China and for the millions of Chinese entrepreneurs who have founded businesses since economic reforms began in 1979.

5 killed during two Afghanistan attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan - A suspected Taliban attack on an Afghan government office and a rocket attack on a provincial town killed five people, officials said Sunday, hours after the U.S. military announced a new drive to crush insurgents and track down Osama bin Laden.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to diminish expectations for the operation by saying nothing unusual is happening.

"What's going on is a normal activity that takes place. And from time to time, there are sweeps made," Rumsfeld said. "And I think to hype it or suggest that there's something major going on is probably a misunderstanding."

Late Saturday, about 60 Taliban fighters armed with rockets and heavy machine guns raided a district chief's office in southern Kandahar province, near the border with Pakistan. That sparked a firefight that killed three Taliban fighters and one Afghan soldier, Kandahar deputy police chief Gen. Salim Khan said.

Separately, two rockets hit the capital of eastern Laghman province late Saturday, killing one civilian, provincial Gov. Mohammed Ibrahim Babkerkhel said. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility.

Kurd-Arab violence kills 15 in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria - Two days of riots that started with fights between rival Kurd and Arab soccer team fans killed at least 15 and injured more than 100 in northeastern Syria, officials said Sunday.

[Last modified March 15, 2004, 01:10:13]

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