A senior Chinese politician, whose prospects for the top leadership are under a cloud, appeared before the media on Friday, in an apparent bid to dispel rumours that a scandal involving a one-time top ally had forced him out.
Bo Xilai, the telegenic and controversial Communist Party chief of the south-western municipality of Chongqing, appeared at a small meeting held during China's on-going national parliament session.
Bo made no immediate comments to the delegates from Chongqing gathered to discuss parliament proceedings, but his very appearance was enough to spark a frenzy of camera snapping after weeks of speculation about his future.
It is the latest act in a drama that has pulsed through the largely rubber stamp parliament and added intrigue to succession jockeying in the top echelons of the secretive ruling Communist Party.
China's leaders have assembled in Beijing for the annual National People's Congress session. But their show of unity has been unsettled this year by speculation about whether Bo, a former commerce minister, could be denied a spot in the next central leadership line-up.
Bo's hopes for climbing from Chongqing into the Communist Party's central Standing Committee took a blow last month after Vice Mayor Wang Lijun, the city's former long-time police chief, fled to a U.S. consulate. Wang left the consulate after more than a day inside, led away by officials.
This week the Chongqing government acknowledged Wang was taken away by state security officials, and the central government is undertaking an investigation.
With the Communist Party's 18th Congress just months away, the drama has added uncertainty to China's biggest leadership transition in nearly a decade, which will be settled then.
Bo attracted a fresh spate of online speculation and whispers among Beijing political observers when he failed to turn up on Thursday at a full session of the parliament, when he ordinarily would have joined other leaders seated on the presidium facing the some 3,000 delegates.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Don Durfee and Sanjeev Miglani)