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China replaces entire police force leadership

BEIJING - China has announced the replacement of the entire leadership of the People's Armed Police, the 600,000-member national security force that is supposed to be the principal mechanism for maintaining order. The police were generally regarded as virtually useless against student protesters last year - which is why army troops were used in the crackdown - and the new appointments may be an attempt to toughen the force.

In addition, a Western diplomat suggested that the Chinese leadership had reflected on the split in Romania between the Securitate police force and the army and wanted to ensure that the People's Armed Police could be trusted absolutely.

People's Daily, which reported the change, did not give any reason for the shuffle. The article did not indicate if the former police leaders were given new responsibilities.

A Chinese official with access to top-level information said the shuffle was related to jockeying for power at the highest levels of the Chinese leadership.

The official said China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, had ordered the shuffle to ensure the police force's loyalty to him instead of to its past patron, Peng Zhen, the former security chief.

The assertion could not be confirmed, but this official and others said the police leaders had been loyal to Peng, who is 88 and retired but retains considerable influence over security matters.

While he is a longtime friend of Deng, Peng is a supporter of the harder line and more orthodox policies advocated by Deng's primary rival, Chen Yun, China's 84-year-old apostle of central planning.

But a Western diplomat suggested that the principal reason for the change was the police had been unreliable - some even joined demonstrators - and the new commanders were appointed to whip the force into shape.

The new police commander is Zhou Yushu, who has served as head of the 24th Army, which was given a major role in the June crackdown and regarded as having performed well, the diplomat said.