Former Chinese president at war parade amid infighting rumors

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin appeared in public on Thursday at a military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War Two in Asia, after rumors of destabilizing infighting in the ruling Communist Party. Jiang stepped down as party chief in 2002 and state president in 2003 but remained head of the military for another year after stacking the Politburo, one of the party's elite ruling bodies, with his people. He remains influential to this day, though does not often appear in public. Rumors periodically circulate in leadership and diplomatic circles about Jiang, especially about arguments between him and President Xi Jinping over policy, which, with China's political system being as opaque and secretive as it is, are impossible to verify. State television showed Jiang, looking a little frail but appearing otherwise healthy, standing on the main leaders' rostrum overlooking Tiananmen Square, with his successor, Hu Jintao, standing next to him. Xi stood slightly behind him in front of a row of microphones at the center of the rostrum. Pictures on a widely followed Weibo site run by self-proclaimed "fans" of Xi - believed to operate with the party's approval as non-official sites about politics are swiftly removed - showed Xi and Jiang chatting, apparently amiably. Jiang gives a thumbs-up in one picture. However, Xi's singer wife Peng Liyuan was not on the rostrum, despite earlier meeting foreign leaders with Xi at the entrance to the Forbidden City, possibly to avoid the perception she is intervening in politics or military affairs. Former premiers Wen Jiabao, Zhu Rongji and Li Peng were also on the rostrum. The party's official People's Daily had fueled speculation about Xi and Jiang last month with a commentary criticizing unidentified officials who clung to power after retirement and caused party splits. Adding to the whispers, the Central Party School, which trains rising officials, removed a stone plinth carrying the school's name written in Jiang's distinctive calligraphy, from its front entrance in early August. A party school official said this week that no disrespect was meant, and that it was simply part of a renovation project, adding that the sign was now inside the campus. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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