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Shanghai appoints former judge as new mayor

By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's largest city Shanghai has named a former judge as mayor, one of the most senior provincial-level positions in the country, the city government announced on Friday.

Ying Yong, 59, had previously run the city's top court and the ruling Communist Party's local organization department, which oversees personnel, according to the Shanghai government.

The appointment comes amid a nationwide reshuffle of upper echelon officials ahead of a meeting of Communist Party elite later this year.

In a two hour news conference after his appointment, Ying painted an optimistic picture of a changing city economy, which he said was expected to grow at around 6.5 percent this year after 6.8 percent growth in 2016.

"The growth that we want is of high quality, efficient, sustainable and should be underpinned by optimal structure," he said. "We must continue to reform and innovate to create bigger economic vitality."

Ying replaces Yang Xiong, who resigned earlier in the week, according to news reports.

Ying has split his career between his native Zhejiang province and Shanghai, predominantly serving in senior law enforcement and justice positions.

He has been the second most senior official in Shanghai's municipal Communist Party branch since July 2014, working under party chief Han Zheng, who some analysts expect to be promoted to a post in Beijing later this year.

Some analysts have said Ying is an ally of President Xi Jinping.

In 2003, within months of Xi's arrival in Zhejiang for a stint as provincial party chief, Ying was put in charge of the province's graft-busting agency. He had been deputy head of provincial police.

Ying and Xi overlapped in the province for about five years.

Xi has moved aggressively to consolidate his power since taking office four years ago, and is widely expected to further stamp his authority on the Communist Party at the once every five year congress later in the year, when important officials will retire and new ones will take their posts.

Addressing one of the hottest topics among the city's 24 million people, Ying said on Friday property prices were too high and had risen too quickly.

Official data showed this week prices of new homes in China grew last year at the fastest rate since 2011, with prices in Shanghai soaring 26.5 percent from 2015.

"If the price of housing is too high it will discourage talent from coming to Shanghai and block the development of the younger generation," Ying said.

He pledged measures to temper the housing market, including expanding housing options for the poor, tightening regulation over real estate intermediaries, and cracking down on rule violations.

(Additional reporting by Lusha Zhang in BEIJING; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)