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Propaganda position may go to Hu loyalist

BEIJING -- A loyal ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao is the front-runner to become propaganda minister during a once-in-a-decade generational leadership change, two sources said, but while media-savvy he is unlikely to drastically loosen tight controls.

Liu Qibao is tipped to be appointed to the post during the Communist Party's 18th congress, which opens on Nov. 8, at which the party will anoint Xi Jinping as the country's fifth-generation leader after Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

China's apex policymaking body, the seven-member standing committee of the politburo, will be unveiled at the congress. The meeting will decide upon a whole slew of new officials, including provincial party heads and cabinet ministers.

“Liu Qibao is likely to take over as propaganda minister unless there is a change at the last minute,” one source told Reuters, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics.

A second source confirmed that Liu was the front-runner for the position.

The post is vital to both instilling confidence in the party and its policies and ensuring a monopoly on the flow of information, something which is getting harder in modern, wired China, with web sites and several feisty new publications straining at the leash to uncover corruption and abuse of power.

Whoever runs it will be in charge of disseminating official policy and viewpoints as well as trying to combat rumors spread by the growing lack of public trust in mainstream state-run media's often mundane and occasionally dubious reporting.

Liu, 59, is currently party boss of the populous southwestern province of Sichuan, a job he was given in 2007. He won plaudits for rebuilding areas struck by the massive 2008 earthquake in which at least 87,000 people died.

Liu can be media-savvy, engaging ordinary people's problems via online questions and using the popular Twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo to send messages, unusual for a senior Chinese official.

“Speaking the truth — these are the best words you can use,” state media quoted Liu as telling a forum last year. “If you want the people to tell you the truth, then officials have to be brave enough to hear the truth, and they must create the right conditions for it.”

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