Mar 3, 4:15 AM EST

China's top legislative advisory body holds annual session

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BEIJING (AP) -- The more than 2,000 members of China's top legislative advisory body convened their annual meeting Tuesday, kicking off a political high season that will continue with the opening of the national congress later in the week.

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, opened the session in Beijing and delivered a lengthy speech praising the body's work.

Advisory members hail from China's various walks of life and ethnic groups, as well as from token political parties meant to assist the ruling Communist Party in running the world's most populous nation and second-largest economy.

The conference is ostensibly a venue for voices from the full spectrum of Chinese society who issue proposals meant to advise the 3,000-member legislature in its work. The National People's Congress is set to begin its annual session on Thursday.

The advisory body has no formal powers, although membership bestows a measure of prestige and provides ample opportunity for networking.

The body's proposals are considered a rough barometer of public opinion, signaling issues of concern from industrial policy to domestic violence. Among this year's proposals are those calling for three years of maternity leave, the further loosening of China's birth policy, cheaper high-speed train tickets and the printing of new bank bills that would render worthless the stockpiles of cash held by corrupt officials.

Also serving on the panel are celebrities, including movie superstar Jackie Chan and former NBA player Yao Ming, who use the venue to bring media attention to their causes, such as Yao's campaign against the ivory trade.

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