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Reports on death of ex-leader 'pure rumour': China
  • | AFP |

China\'s official media said Thursday that reports claiming former president Jiang Zemin had died were "pure rumour", after days of intense speculation about his health.

man walks past pictures of former communist party leaders (L to R) Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and current president Hu Jintao in Beijing as part of celebrations for the July 1 Chinese Communist Party\'s 90th anniversary on June 28, 2011.

The state-run Xinhua news agency quoted "authoritative sources" in its report quashing the rumour, which emerged last Friday after the 84-year-old failed to appear at celebrations marking the Communist Party\'s 90th birthday.

Speculation gathered momentum this week and culminated with Hong Kong and Japanese media putting out reports confirming his death.

Hong Kong broadcaster ATV announced Wednesday that the former president had passed away, citing unspecified sources and giving no details. It said it would air a special one-hour programme on Jiang but later cancelled it.

The Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun also reported Thursday that Jiang had died in Beijing, quoting "a source involved in Japan-China relations".

The brief Xinhua dispatch gave no further details on the former leader\'s health situation.

Jiang\'s absence from the Friday gala in central Beijing was conspicuous as many other retired party and national leaders -- including former prime ministers Li Peng and Zhu Rongji -- were present.

Rumours have surfaced in the past that Jiang, who reportedly still wields a lot of power in the inner party sanctum, may be seriously ill.

On Thursday, searches for his name and other terms such as "cardiac arrest" -- one of his rumoured causes of death -- on the popular Twitter-like Weibo service were blocked, in an indication censors were blocking information.

China routinely censors online content it deems politically sensitive. This includes the health of leaders, which is considered a state secret, apparently due to concerns illness might affect the appearance of stability in the party.

Even the word "river" -- the meaning of Jiang\'s surname -- was barred Thursday on Weibo, which more than 100 million Chinese people use.

Typing "Jiang Zemin died" on search engine yielded no results either.

Jiang was appointed head of the ruling Communist Party by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping following the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests.

He stepped down as the country\'s president in 2003 after guiding the nation through more than a decade of blistering economic growth, marked by a lack of corresponding political reforms.

An electrical engineer by training who spent his early career in factory positions, Jiang lacked the revolutionary credentials and prestige of Deng.

But he managed to outmanoeuvre or outlast Communist Revolution-era hardliners who hoped to slow economic reforms in the early 1990s.

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