BEIJING (Reuters) - A former Beijing mayor, instrumental in the government crackdown on student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and later jailed for corruption, has died of cancer, state media reported on Wednesday. He was 83.
Chen Xitong died on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief report, two days ahead of the 24th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, suppression of the pro-democracy protests.
Xinhua said he had been released on medical parole in 2006.
Chen was a leading hardliner who strongly backed the bloody crackdown on the protests and later presented the official version of events in a speech to parliament.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the military swept into the center of Beijing to deal with what the government later called a "counter-revolutionary" event.
Chen was then promoted to the Politburo, an elite decision-making Communist Party body, in recognition of his hardline stand.
However Chen was detained in 1995 after the suicide of his protege, vice mayor Wang Baosen, who was being investigated in a $37 million embezzlement case.
Chen was found guilty of accepting bribes and blowing millions of dollars in public funds with Wang on luxury villas around Beijing and jailed for 16 years in 1998.
Chen was the highest Communist Party official to be jailed for graft since the revolution in 1949.
Bo Xilai, also a former Politburo member and one time contender for top leadership, was expelled from the party and placed under investigation for corruption last year, though his case has yet to come to trial.
An official paean issued when Chen was appointed to the Politburo in 1992 described him as among the busiest and most hardworking of China's senior officials, rising at dawn to jog and working late into the night.
The official Xinhua news agency said the verse showed Chen to be a dedicated public servant.
Xinhua's assessment in 1995 when he was expelled from the Politburo was less kind.
"He himself led a dissolute, extravagant life, abused his power to seek illegal interests for his relatives and accepted valuable gifts for his own use by taking the advantage of his position and while performing his public duties," it said.
"His mistakes are serious."
Tens of thousands of people held a candlelit vigil in Hong Kong on Tuesday to urge China to respect human rights on the 24th anniversary of the crackdown.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is the only place on Chinese soil where large, open commemorations of the Tiananmen massacre take place. The vigil is held up as a symbol of Hong Kong's relative freedoms and civil liberties compared with mainland China.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)