Premier Li Peng appeared in public Thursday for the first time in six days and reaffirmed support for martial law in the strongest sign yet that
conservative leaders had the upper hand in a high-level power struggle and might move to crush the democracy movement.Li was the first Chinese leader to re-emerge after senior officials went behind the scenes following his declaration of martial law Saturday in Beijing to stamp out weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations led by students.
In a meeting shown on government television, Li met with the ambassadors of Mexico, Burma and Nigeria. The meeting lasted 30 minutes, a Mexican diplomat said. Li appeared relaxed, smiling as he spoke with the ambassadors, and referred to the continued unrest as "abnormal phenomena" and "disturbances," but played it down, state radio reported.
"The Chinese government is capable and stable and we are able to carry out our duties to solve the problems properly," he said.
Li's resurfacing came after the Chinese military, in its toughest statement in days, accused students leading the protests of trying to overthrow the government and appeared to warn it was preparing to enforce the martial law decree.
There was no official word on the leadership battle, the fiercest since the Cultural Revolution, but it appeared almost certain the conservatives had prevailed over moderates grouped around Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.
Li and senior leader Deng Xiaoping, with the backing of party conservatives, were battling for supremacy against the moderates and overwhelming popular opposition to last Friday's decision to call out the army to put down the unrest in Beijing.
"It looks very grim for Zhao," said a senior Western diplomat, speaking before the television broadcast. "His position is poor, not a great deal of support at this time."
But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, asked at a regular news briefing about the leadership, said Zhao remained party secretary and there was "no change in positions of any high leaders." Such changes would not be immediately announced.
Diplomats noted continued wide differences in the ruling Politburo and the military. One analyst said he was confident Deng had taken control of the immediate situation, but noted: "the question is whether the government can govern."