A group of Communist Party elders have urged leaders to take bold steps towards launching long-delayed political reform, ease censorship and allow organised opposition, saying that only democracy and transparency can help steer the country through the current economic crisis. In an open letter addressed to President Hu Jintao and other Politburo Standing Committee members and released yesterday, they said the incumbent leaders should learn from their predecessors, including former party chief Hu Yaobang, who made daring moves towards political and economic freedom some 30 years ago. The letter, signed by 16 liberal members of the party old guard, including Li Rui, a former secretary to Mao Zedong, came ahead of the annual gathering of National People's Congress next month. It also coincided with the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Beijing. She has promised to press Beijing on human rights. Signatories to the letter also included former propaganda chief Zhu Houze; Du Daozheng, former director of the General Administration of Press and Publication and publisher of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine; prominent lawyer Zhang Sizhi; and government-linked economist Gao Shangquan. The letter called for the reinstatement of a five-member leadership group on political reform, established in 1986 and led by then premier Zhao Ziyang. The group, which aimed to work out a blueprint for political reform, was disbanded three years later after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and the sacking of Zhao as party chief. 'After our economic structure shifted to become market-oriented, political reform has been severely stalled, with power being abused and corruption widespread,' said the letter. 'Corruption must be tackled at its root and the ground-breaking mechanism of checks and balances and supervision must be established urgently.' The elders also criticised rampant censorship and media control. In December, prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo was arrested for drafting a document called 'Charter 08', which called for bold political reform and direct elections. The document was signed by more than 300 noted intellectuals and dissidents.