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BEIJING (Reuters) - China, which rights groups say uses capital punishment more than any other country, has scrapped the death penalty for 13 economic, non-violent crimes including smuggling historic relics and tax fraud-related offences.
But the vice-chairman of the law committee of the standing committee of the National People's Congress, Lang Sheng, said the death penalty was still necessary for other crimes, according to the website China.com.cn.
After the adjustment, capital punishment will apply to 55 offences, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The change marked the first time that China has reduced the number of crimes subject to the death penalty since the Criminal Law took effect in 1979, the news agency said.
The amendment was "meant to further implement the principle of tempering justice with mercy," Xinhua said.
"Abolishing the death penalty for these 13 crimes is a big step," Lang said. "Obviously, we have still retained the death penalty for a number of other crimes."
"The death sentences have to be in accordance with the needs of our country's economic and social development and according to the needs of today's society for punishing crime," he said.
Under the amendment, the death penalty will not be imposed on people aged 75 or older at the time of trial, except if they commit a murder with exceptional cruelty, Xinhua said.
Officials have said they have never considered scrapping the death penalty for those found guilty of corruption.
Last year, the largely rubber stamp parliament began considering a proposal to cut the number of offences that carry the death penalty.
China has been slowly reforming the death penalty system after several high-profile wrongful convictions raised public anger.
Rights groups regularly criticise China over its high execution rate, secrecy about the use of the punishment and the range of crimes that carry the death penalty.
In a report issued last year, rights group Amnesty International said it estimated China executed thousands of people in 2009, more than the rest of the world combined. China does not issue figures on how many people it puts to death. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Sabrina Mao, Editing by Ken Wills and Robert Birsel)