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Absence of China’s presumptive new leader stokes rumor mills

BEIJING — The strange disappearance from public view of China’s presumptive new leader is turning a year that was supposed to showcase the Communist Party’s stability into something of an annus horribilis.

Over the past week, the new leader, Xi Jinping, has missed at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday and the prime minister of Denmark on Monday. Speculation that his health, either physical or political, has prevented him from making public appearances is rife on the Chinese Internet, but there has been no official explanation for his absence. He was last seen in public Sept. 1.

Xi’s unexplained absences are especially conspicuous on the eve of what is supposed to be China’s once-in-a-decade transfer of power. It also adds to a litany of woes that have disrupted the Communist Party’s hopes for a seamless political transition.

On Wednesday, after Xi did not meet Clinton and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, diplomats said privately that he had a bad back.

On Monday, the situation got odder. Foreign journalists had been invited to a photo opportunity between Xi and Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark. On Monday, however, the Foreign Ministry denied that any such meeting had been scheduled, and said other Chinese officials would meet the Danish leader.

“We have told everybody everything,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei.

—Ian Johnson, The New York Times

BP to sell some Gulf of Mexico oil fields for about $5.6 billion

LONDON — BP agreed Monday to sell its stake in a group of oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico to Plains Exploration and Production Co. of Houston for about $5.6 billion.

The announcement comes as Robert W. Dudley, chief executive of BP, is raising money to pay for cleanup costs and potential fines resulting from a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

BP has taken charges of $38 billion for the spill and could face substantially higher costs if it is found guilty of gross negligence in causing the disaster, which killed 11 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig and led to extensive cleanup efforts.

Dudley has been refocusing BP on high-risk, high-return frontier exploration and production, including deepwater fields. The company has said it is in talks to sell its 50 percent stake in its Russian affiliate, TNK-BP, which it considers a low-growth property.

The announced deal — of older, smaller assets in the Gulf of Mexico — remains true to the effort to sell mature fields. Plains Exploration, a midsize oil company with a market capitalization of about $5.2 billion, has operations in California, the Gulf of Mexico and Texas.

—Stanley Reed, The New York Times