Li Peng, a former hard-line Chinese premier best known for announcing martial law during the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, has died at the age of 90 of an unspecified illness.
Li, a cautious, uninspiring figure, was a keen political infighter who spent two decades at the pinnacle of power before retiring in 2002. He leaves behind a legacy of extended and broad-based economic growth coupled with authoritarian political controls.
While broadly disliked by the public, he oversaw China’s reemergence from post-Tiananmen isolation to rising global diplomatic and economic clout, a development he celebrated in often defiantly nationalistic public statements.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Beijing for a series of protests during the spring and summer of 1989, which were brought to an end in hostile fashion by the military.
Mr Li was broadly disliked by the population as a result of what happened and became known as the “Butcher of Beijing”, but still spent another 13 years at the pinnacle of power before retiring in 2002.
He had risen to power as a result of what happened at Tiananmen Square, with pro-reform party leader Zhao Ziyang being toppled for sympathising with the student protesters.
During his final years in power, he pushed through approval for his pet project, the gargantuan $22 billion Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which forced 1.3 million people to leave homes that were swallowed up by its enormous reservoir.
Li stepped down as premier in 1998, becoming chairman of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. He retired from the party’s seven-member ruling Standing Committee in 2002 as part of a long-planned handover of power to a younger generation of leaders headed by Hu Jintao.