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Ex-president makes rare appearance

Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin has made a rare public appearance, months after speculation that he had died or was close to death.

The 85-year-old took his seat on stage with other former and current top Chinese leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing at an official event commemorating the centennial anniversary of the 1911 revolution that overthrew imperial rule on the mainland.

Dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie, Mr Jiang wore his signature large, square-rimmed glasses as he sat listening to speeches with his hands on the table in front of him. His hair was slicked back as usual but was obviously thinning, and he appeared at times to be tired.

Mr Jiang's failure to appear at a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party's founding in July sparked intense online speculation that he had died. While the rumours were suppressed on the mainland, they were widely reported in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that has promised Western-style civil liberties, including freedom of speech.

The Chinese government dismissed such reports as rumour. Beijing is very secretive about the health of top leaders and is particularly sensitive ahead of a leadership transition that starts late next year at a major Communist Party congress.

The death of Mr Jiang, a retired but still very influential figure, could cause some of his proteges to shift allegiances, affecting the jockeying for power among China's rising political elites.

For a dozen years, Mr Jiang led the country through massive changes after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, until he transferred power to President Hu Jintao in 2002.

Mr Jiang came across as a harmless figure, with his beaming smile and trousers belted above his navel. He shepherded along economic reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping and cultivated always-tense relations with the United States.

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