Beijing: China on Thursday dismissed reports that retired president Jiang Zemin, who led the country through massive changes after the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, has died.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted what it called authoritative sources as saying the reports were "pure rumour”.
An official from the State Council Information Office said only, "It`s a rumour”. The State Council is China`s Cabinet. The official, like many in China, would give only her surname, Li.
The denials follow days of widespread speculation on the Internet that Jiang, 84, had died, fuelled by his failure to appear at last Friday`s celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party`s founding.
A Hong Kong TV station and Japanese and South Korean media had reported that Jiang had died.
The Internet speculation also sent censors into overdrive to excise the comments.
Searches for "Jiang Zemin" in Chinese or simply "Jiang" — which means "river" — drew warnings on Sina Corp`s popular Twitter-like service that said the search was illegal. Some posts then began appearing on Sina Weibo about former leader "River" in English.
News that some overseas media had reported Jiang`s death whizzed around the social networking site, with some mainland users puzzling over how Hong Kong media could have received the news first.
The US-based dissident news site Boxun.com said Shandong News in eastern China had its website disabled by authorities for reporting Jiang`s death, though the newspaper dismissed Boxun`s report.
Boxun showed what it said was a screenshot of Shandong News with a banner headline reading, "Venerable Comrade Jiang Zemin Will Never Be Forgotten" next to a photo of the former leader.
A woman in the news department at Shandong News said the newspaper`s site went offline Wednesday because their servers crashed and they were still trying to fix the problem.
The woman, who would only give her surname, Wang, said the website never posted news saying Jiang had died.
"That`s a rumour," she said. "Maybe someone with ulterior motives made that screenshot."
The Internet cat-and-mouse game over the possible death of a former leader underscores how secretive China`s Communist Party leadership remains — and the difficulties of maintaining that secrecy in a well-wired society.
Jiang led China for a dozen years until transferring power to President Hu Jintao in 2002.