Chinese authorities are officially denying that Jiang Zemin is dead after days of speculation about the health of the former president.
Reports that Jiang,84, had died began spreading across the Internet following his failure to appear at ceremonies Friday marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
After a day of trying to censor the story on the Internet, officials formally denied the reports Thursday. Citing "authoritative sources," the official Xinhua news agency said reports of Jiang's death "are pure rumor."
A Hong Kong TV station for several hours reported that Jiang had died Wednesday evening. Similar reports have appeared in Japanese and South Korean media.
News outlets carrying the report did not identify their sources, and the Hong Kong station, ATV, later withdrew its report and publicly apologized "to the audience, Jiang Zemin and his family."
The Xinhua denial follows unsuccessful attempts to silence the speculation in more subtle ways. Beginning Wednesday, Internet users found searches using the words "Jiang Zemin" and related words were blocked on popular microblogging sites.
China's foreign ministry refused to comment on the rumors Wednesday. However, Reuters news agency on Thursday quoted three sources with ties to China's leadership saying that Jiang suffered a heart attack and is in intensive care at a military hospital in Beijing.
China has long guarded information on the health of the nation's top leaders as a state secret.
Jiang is one of China's most influential political figures since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping died in 1997. Jiang oversaw the return of Hong Kong from British rule in July of that year, and is credited with reforms that helped turn China into a global economic power.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.