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Former top Chinese leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly kicked out of the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress on Saturday in a dramatic moment during what is usually a highly choreographed event.

Hu, 79, was seated prominently at the main table of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, right next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, when he was approached by a staff member, as shown in a video of the meeting.

As he sat, Hu appeared to speak briefly with the male staff member, while China’s third-highest leader Li Zhanshu, who was seated on the other side, had his hand on the chair behind his back. of Hu.

Hu then appeared to stand after being picked up by the staff member, who had taken the former leader by the arm, as Kong Shaoxun, head of the party secretariat, approached. Hu spoke briefly with the two men and at first seemed reluctant to leave.

Hu was then escorted by the two men from his seat, with the staff member holding his arm, as other party members seated behind the head table looked on. The circumstances surrounding Hu’s exit are unclear.

As he exited, Hu was seen pausing and appeared to say something to Xi, then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Xi and Li seemed to nod their heads. Xi’s answer is unclear.

At one point, while Hu was still seated, Xi appeared to place his hand on a document Hu was trying to reach to prevent him from doing so.

At another point, after Hu stood up and apparently protested to the two men before walking out, Li Zhanshu appeared to try to get up from his seat, but was tugged back down on his suit jacket by another. member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Wang. Huning, seated next to him.

Hu, who retired in 2013, has been seen in public as increasingly fragile in recent years.

Due to the opacity of Chinese elite politics, the party is unlikely to offer a public explanation for Hu’s sudden exit. The dramatic moment was not reported anywhere in Chinese media, nor discussed on Chinese social media, where such conversation is highly restricted. But it sparked a storm of speculation overseas.

CNN was censored on air in China when it reported on Hu’s exit from the meeting on Saturday.

Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 Congress delegates approved new members of the party’s elite Central Committee in a private session, and before delegates were called to approve the work report. of the party during a session open to journalists.

The newly announced 205-member Central Committee did not include Li Keqiang and fellow Standing Committee member Wang Yang, both of whom are considered Hu’s proteges. This means neither will retain their seat on the Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, despite both being 67, a year below the unofficial retirement age. Xi, who is 69, is included in the list of new Central Committee members.

The composition of the Standing Committee will be announced on Sunday, one day after the Congress closes. Xi, who is widely seen as having cemented power by eliminating rivals and dampening the lingering influence of party elders, is set to be reconfirmed as party leader in a norm-breaking move and surround himself with allies .

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