updated 10/2/2005 2:56:15 AM ET 2005-10-02T06:56:15

Tens of thousands of Chinese marked the 56th anniversary of Communist rule in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Saturday with the country enjoying the benefits of two decades of rapid economic growth but still facing deep-seated social problems.

The crowds in the square enthusiastically waved Chinese flags and posed for pictures as security forces looked on placidly.

Security was tight in the capital Beijing at the start of the weeklong holiday. Police bomb squads were out in force, and human rights groups said authorities have been expelling people with grievances from the capital to prevent disruptions, a common move during politically sensitive periods.

On Friday, Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to press forward with rapid economic development but did not mention democratic reforms or any changes to one-party rule, touting the supremacy of the Communist Party. He only alluded to the social problems facing the country.

“China has undergone earthshaking changes and achieved world-stunning successes,” Wen said at a reception for more than 1,500 foreign and Chinese guests at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing.

Calls for reform
Though the economy is booming, the party is increasingly sensitive to calls within its ranks to do more to narrow the gap between rich and poor and stamp out corruption.

Increasing numbers of poverty-stricken farmers are protesting against widespread graft, industrial pollution and seizures of land for development. Analysts have warned that widening income disparities between the cities and countryside and rising unemployment could threaten social stability.

Reforms launched in the late 1970s have fueled decades of rapid economic development which have transformed Chinese society. But while city residents are buying their first cars and taking their first overseas vacations, farmers in the vast countryside still labor as they have for centuries.

“History has eloquently proved that socialism with Chinese characteristics, a road that we have been following all along, is the only right path that leads us forward,” said Wen, whose speech was punctuated frequently by applause.

“We will firmly press ahead with economic restructuring,” he said, adding that the goal is “achieving a sustained, rapid and sound economic development.”

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