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China’s Communist Party congress wraps up

China’s Communist Party has wrapped up its week-long congress in Beijing, where delegates chose a new central committee. Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to replace President Hu Jintao as party leader.

The selection on Wednesday of the party’s central committee, a ruling council with around 200 full members and an additional 170 members who don' have voting rights, marked the end of the congress.

"I now announce that the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress has come to a victorious conclusion," President Hu told delegates who had gathered in the Great Hall of the People.

The Xinhua news agency said Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang had both been elected to the central committee, the first step on their predicted path to take over the helm of both the party and their country.

Xi has long been expected to take over from Hu as president, while Li is the designated heir to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. China's leadership changes every 10 years, under retirement rules linked to age and tenure, and both Hu and Wen must now step down.

More than 2,200 delegates cast votes behind closed doors for the committee.

On Thursday, the delegates are scheduled to name a Politburo of a several dozen members. From this group, an inner circle of power - the Politburo Standing Committee - will be chosen.

The membership of the two elite bodies could forecast China's political and economic direction, especially if it is dominated by conservatives instead of those with a reputation to push reform.

The seven-day congress was held in Beijing under the tightest security the city has seen since hosting the 2008 Olympics.

hc,rc/kms (Reuters, dpa)