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China vow on inflation and incomes

China's government has vowed to clamp down on inflation and urgently raise incomes as it pushes to spread the benefits of economic growth at a time when living standards are rising, but so are calls for greater change.

In a speech that is China's equivalent to the US president's annual State of the Union address, premier Wen Jiabao said there would be more assistance to working class and rural Chinese who had not benefited from the country's rapid growth.

"Happiness" is a key theme for the authoritarian government this year, as it seeks to pull down inflation that has caused public grumbling and deliver more sustainable growth rather than the break-neck pace that has fouled the environment and widened a yawning rich-poor gap.

"We must make improving the people's lives a pivot linking reform, development and stability ... and make sure people are content with their lives and jobs, society is tranquil and orderly and the country enjoys long-term peace and stability," Mr Wen said at the opening of the National People's Congress in Beijing, where the country's social and economic goals will be laid out for the next five years amid lower growth targets and concerns about inflation and asset bubbles.

Security, always high during the congress, is extreme this year following anonymous calls posted on the internet for Chinese to imitate the popular protests that unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

A new appeal called for more protests on Sunday, the third in a row, though the previous two have attracted onlookers, journalists and swarms of police, but few outright demonstrators.

Police were seen on Saturday taking away at least two women from Tiananmen Square, possibly several of the many petitioners who flock to Beijing during the 10-day congress to seek help with their grievances.

In a country where many people spend a large part of their salaries on food, inflation is a serious concern, hitting 4.9% in January despite government efforts to reduce it.

"This problem concerns the people' s wellbeing, bears on overall interests and affects social stability," Mr Wen told the nearly 3,000 national legislators, adding the government would impose price controls as needed and promote food supply, including building up reserves of key items to be released into the market when needed.

Price supports for wheat and rice will also be raised.

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