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China calls reports of Jiang Zemin's death 'pure rumour'

China has dismissed as "pure rumour" 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. The one-sentence dispatch in English was not carried by Xinhua's Chinese-language service.

The need to comment underscores the difficulties the secretive, authoritarian government faces in controlling information. While state media are under tight control, foreign reports seep into China via the internet, giving Chinese access to news – and rumours – the leadership dislikes.

An official from the Cabinet's information office said only, "It's a rumour," when asked about Jiang's death.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, refused to comment directly yesterday on Mr Jiang, referring reporters at a regular news conference to the Xinhua report.