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China marks its 48th birthday with praise for market reforms

Communist China celebrated its 48th birthday Wednesday with calls for the nation to swing its weight behind plans for further capitalist-style market reforms.

For ordinary Chinese, National Day marked the start of a four-day holiday, with many shops and offices closed.More than 260,000 Chinese were at Beijing's vast Tiananmen Square to witness the dawn flag-raising, the Beijing Evening News said. The plaza, akin to revolutionary hallowed ground, abuts Tiananmen, the dark red Gate of Heavenly Peace where Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, 1949.

For the first time, Hong Kong also celebrated National Day. The former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule on July 1 held a solemn flag-raising ceremony Wednesday morning, with parades and fireworks to follow.

Chinese government-run newspapers marked the anniversary by trumpeting the benefits of market reforms launched after Mao's death in 1976.

"The great motherland is full of vitality and energy . . . a joyous picture of prosperity," the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said in a front-page editorial that was reprinted in several other papers.

The editorial said China's foremost task was to swing the nation's 1.2 billion people behind plans for further market reforms unveiled at a pivotal party congress two weeks ago.

Delegates at the congress, the ruling party's first in five years, approved plans to shake up China's huge, moribund state-owned enterprise sector with capitalist-style mergers, share issues, takeovers and bankruptcies.