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Mystery of the missing Mao tribute

There was something missing as Li Peng, the Prime Minister, wound up his two-hour report at the weekend opening of China's annual parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC). As expected, he peppered his speech with references to the greatness of the late Deng Xiaoping. He made three references to President Jiang Zemin, one less than last year, but still a respectable demonstration of Mr Li's backing for Deng's chosen heir.

But what about China's great revolutionary leader? For the first time anyone could remember, there was no mention of Mao Tse-tung. Marxism- Leninism had also hit the cutting-room floor.

Stock phrases are a fixed feature of Chinese political discourse. "Let's just say that Mao was not left out of the speech because someone forgot," a Western analyst said. In recent years Mr Li has annually quoted Mao's dictum "let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend" in his NPC address. That, too, was dropped this time. In contrast, last year Mr Li even wound up his speech with yet another Mao quote. China- watchers were perplexed by the absence of Mao. The best guess was that historic tribute was supposed to be focused just on Deng; the more cynical pointed out that since the rest of the speech was all about still trying to undo the mess bequeathed by the Maoist central planning, perhaps China's leaders had realised it was time to leave his name out.

In all other respects, Mr Li played it safe, firmly backing the Deng policies and falling into line behind Mr Jiang as the "core" of the existing leadership in the post-Deng era. Two other senior figures also publicly saluted Mr Jiang as the "core" over the weekend: Qiao Shi, NPC chairman and Liu Huaqing, the most senior military figure in the party hierarchy. Support from military figures is crucial for the President, and it was no surprise when it was announced the defence budget will jump by 12.7 per cent, twice the expected rate of inflation.

London (Reuters) - Deng's widow, Zhuo Lin, scattered his ashes at sea yesterday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.