Former senior Chinese official Qiao Shi dies aged 91

BEIJING (AFP) - A former senior Chinese Communist Party official, Qiao Shi, died in Beijing on Sunday aged 91, state media reported.

Mr Qiao, who joined the ruling party at age 15, headed China's parliament in the 1990s and was a member of the party Politburo Standing Committee, the country's most powerful body, for a decade, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

He also served as the nation's security chief but retired from all his posts in 1998.

During the political turmoil of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, Mr Qiao was persecuted and held in isolation for an unspecified duration, Xinhua said.

He was at the apex of his power during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Mr Qiao was widely seen by analysts as sympathetic to their cause but seemingly survived unscathed despite his sentiments, at a time when other perceived sympathisers were being locked up.

He was later put in charge of the rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress, a role some experts saw as a demotion since its function is largely ceremonial.

The party central committee, in a statement quoted by Xinhua, extolled Mr Qiao "as an excellent party member, a time-tested and loyal communist soldier, and an outstanding proletarian revolutionist, statesman and leader of the party and the state".

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