Leader's health reports denied

CHINA'S official media has denied reports about senior leader Mr Deng Xiaoping's health, accusing overseas media of fabricating the news with ''ulterior motives''.

The New China News Agency (NCNA) yesterday issued a brief dispatch in response to ''rumours'' in the Hongkong and Taiwan media and stock markets about the ''precarious conditions'' of Mr Deng.

''Deng Xiaoping's health condition is very good, NCNA correspondents learned from reliable sources,'' the dispatch, which was datelined Hongkong, said.

''The recent rumours about Deng Xiaoping's health, which came from the stock markets in Hongkong and Taiwan, is sheer fabrication by those with ulterior motives, the sources said.'' A few Hongkong and Taiwan media reported that Mr Deng was either seriously ill or had died.

Mr Deng, 88, made his last public appearance just before the Lunar New Year.

''He was so healthy that he could walk freely without assistance and his mind and speeches were clear,'' the Hongkong based Ta Kung Pao quoted officials as saying.

Chinese sources said that while in Shanghai, Mr Deng urged that the nation maintain an ''adequately high'' growth rate.

A source said, however, that while Mr Deng had no life-threatening disease, he was afflicted with ''the usual old man's diseases'' and that his health was going downhill steadily.

''It is unusual that the official media comes out with a statement denying health speculations,'' a source said.

''It could mean that in addition to health problems, Deng is also under pressure from his political opponents. Publicity about his 'robustness' serves to rally Deng's supporters against conservative elements.''