By Jason Subler
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A delayed Beijing marathon and postponement of an exhibition on security equipment offer the clearest signs yet that the 18th Communist Party Congress, at which China's next top leaders will be unveiled, will take place in mid-October.
China has yet to announce a start date for the congress, China's biggest political meeting in 10 years, which will see the transfer of power from President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to a new generation.
The sudden delays to the two events underscore the secrecy shrouding the event - as well as the degree to which the security measures put in place will disrupt normal life.
Runners who have registered for the Beijing marathon, originally scheduled for October 14, have received notice that it is subject to delay, and a clock on the marathon's website (www.beijing-marathon.com/en/) counting down the days, hours and minutes to the event was left blank on Wednesday.
"We are still waiting for approval documents from the Beijing government, as the Party Congress will be this year, which could conflict with the competition," said an official with the Beijing marathon organizing committee who would only give her surname of Jin when reached by telephone.
"It will probably be held two or three weeks later than previous years, so early November."
A notice on the rescheduling of the 11th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security from October 22-25 to December 3-6 is even more explicit.
"We have received notice from the Big Events Management Office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau that the Communist Party's 18th Congress will be held in the middle of October 2012," the industry association organizing the exhibition said.
"It has requested that all big public events in Beijing scheduled for October be rescheduled in order to fully safeguard security in the capital before, during and after the 18th Party Congress," the China Security and Protection Industry Association added in its notice.
Three Western diplomats said the Chinese Foreign Ministry had informed their embassies that it would not accept diplomatic visits in October, another tell-tale sign.
The congress will see 2,270 delegates descend on the capital for roughly a week of highly choreographed deliberations. The 17th congress in 2007 also started in mid-October.
A mid-October congress would also signal that leaders have decided, or are close to deciding, on the top echelon of power within the Party, the Politburo Standing Committee, despite differences of opinion among various factions.
As closed-door meetings to hammer out the final roster take place, Xi Jinping, poised to be the next leader, appears to have emerged politically stronger after Party elders foiled a second attempt by Hu to stack the top ranks with his own allies, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
"I think we will probably have a Politburo meeting sometime this week or next week," said Bo Zhiyue, Senior Research Fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.
"My expectation is that after this Politburo meeting they will make some kind of announcement" about the start date.
Until that happens, the feverish speculation will continue.
A brief poem circulated by email and text message references the family names of seven leaders purported to have made it into the Standing Committee -- and putting the start date for the congress at October 13.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Sabrina Mao, Benjamin Kang Lim and Lucy Hornby in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)