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Former Chinese leader Hu in first public appearance since dramatic Congress exit

Hu Jintao (2R) had not appeared in public since he was dramatically escorted out of a top Communist Party meeting at which Xi Jinping (R) was handed a historic third term as leader. ©AFP

Beijing (AFP) - Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was seen in public for the first time since he was dramatically escorted out of a top Communist Party meeting, when he paid respects to his late predecessor Jiang Zemin on Monday.

In October, Hu was lifted out of his chair and led out of the closing ceremony of the Party Congress, a highly unusual incident that disrupted the carefully choreographed event at which Xi Jinping was handed a historic third term as leader. 

Chinese state media later said Hu had been feeling unwell, but his obvious reluctance to leave the hall prompted speculation over whether political factors were at play.

On Monday morning Hu appeared with other top leaders at the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing to pay their final respects to Jiang before his cremation, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed. 

The frail 79-year-old is seen standing next to Xi, an attendant at his shoulder, as the officials bow three times before Jiang's body. 

Later, Hu is seen walking unsteadily with the help of the same attendant as the cadres walk around the funereal display and talk to Jiang's widow.

At the October Congress, Xi was anointed general secretary of the party for another five-year period, breaking the precedent of stepping down after two terms followed by Hu and Jiang.

Some believed the unexpected removal of Hu was meant to send a strong political signal to those in the party that might oppose Xi's coronation. 

A Hu protege, Hu Chunhua, had been tipped by some to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in China. 

But Xi sidelined him and has filled his inner circle with close allies. 

Xi has promoted a narrative that he has rectified huge problems that beset China and the party during the tenures of Hu and his predecessors, such as graft and the unequal distribution of wealth.

China's censors scrubbed references to Hu's removal from Congress from the internet after the incident took place.

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