China tells military to ignore coup rumours, obey party

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China's top military newspaper told troops on Friday to ignore rumors on the Internet and steel themselves for 'ideological struggle' as the ruling Communist Party faces a leadership transition, in a sign of jitters in Beijing.

The Liberation Army Daily did not mention outlandish rumors of a foiled coup in Beijing that spread on the Internet in past weeks, after the ousting of Bo Xilai, an ambitious contender for a spot in the new central leadership to be settled later this year.

The newspaper, however, in a front-page commentary, left no doubt the party leadership wants to inoculate People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops against rumors that could erode the authority of President Hu Jintao, who also serves as head of the party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the PLA.

The paper admonished soldiers to "resolutely resist the incursion of all kinds of erroneous ideas, not be disturbed by noise, not be affected by rumors, and not be drawn by undercurrents, and ensure that at all times and under all circumstances the military absolutely obeys the command of the Party central leadership, the Central Military Commission and Chairman Hu."

The commentary directed at the military follows other comments aimed at reinforcing the party's grip on opinion after an unsettling two months of political upheaval and rumors, at a time the leadership prizes stability.

In late March, authorities shut 16 Chinese websites and detained six people accused of spreading rumors about unusual military movements and security in the capital, feeding talk of an attempted coup or schism in the leadership.

The rumors fed on speculation about the ousting of Bo Xilai, who in mid-March was removed as party boss of Chongqing city in southwest China, over a month after his vice mayor, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate, triggering a scandal exposing accusations of infighting and abuses of power.

Charismatic Bo had wrapped himself in populist rhetoric and egalitarian vows, and his removal has stirred open opposition from leftist supporters who see him as the victim of a plot. The Liberation Army Daily mentioned none of this.

But it said the military must maintain a tight grip on troops' access to the Internet in the middle of what it called an 'ideological struggle' before the 18th Communist Party congress late this year, when Hu and his cohort will retire.

"Historical experience shows that whenever the party and country faces major issues, and whenever reform and development reach a crucial juncture, struggle in the ideological arena becomes even more intense and complex," said the newspaper.

"We must pay close attention to the impact of the Internet, mobile phones and other new media on the thinking of officers and troops," it said.

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