China’s Communist Party on Saturday endorsed Xi Jinping’s “core position” in the country’s leadership, all but assuring he will be handed an unprecedented third term in power.

At the end of the week-long gathering in Beijing, China’s ruling party approved a sweeping reshuffle that saw a number of top officials step down, allowing Xi to appoint new allies.

The largely rubber-stamp meeting of among 2,300 party delegates was meticulously choreographed, with Xi determined to avoid any surprises as he enshrined his leadership for the next five years.

But in an unexpected move that punctured the proceedings at the Great Hall of the People, former President Hu Jintao was led out of the closing ceremony. No official explanation was given.

Delegates then approved a call obliging all party members to “uphold Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole”, according to a unanimously passed resolution on changes to the party charter.

Xi is now all but certain to be unveiled as general secretary on Sunday, shortly after the first meeting of the new Central Committee.

This will allow Xi to sail through to a third term as China’s president, due to be announced during the government’s annual legislative sessions in March.

Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, reporting from Beijing, said it had been an “eventful” week which has highlighted the challenges the new leadership will face – most notably the state of the economy.

“The national bureau of statistics unexpectedly postponed the release of the of Q3 GDP [gross domestic product] data earlier this week,” he said.

“It points to, as analysts have suggested, muted growth for the third quarter, following near zero growth in the second quarter,” Fok added, say this was all “inextricably linked” to China’s zero-COVID policy, which President Xi Jinping has repeatedly defended and endorsed.

Premier steps down

One person who will not be on the new Central Committee is Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as his name was not included in a list of new members at the end of the congress on Saturday.

This means he will be ineligible to sit on the Politburo’s Standing Committee.

Li had already announced that he would not run again at the annual meeting of the People’s Congress in March after two terms in office.

Speculation was rife, however, that he might become the head, or speaker, of parliament, which would effectively make him the second most powerful political actor after Xi.

The current speaker, Li Zhanshu, was also

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