BEIJING (AFP) - Reformist Chinese leader Hu Yaobang, whose death led to the 1989 Tiananmen protests, was offered rare praise by a newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party on Monday, the anniversary of his demise.
Hu, general secretary of the party when Deng Xiaoping was China's paramount leader, remains a sensitive figure because of his link to the democracy demonstrations, which authorities quashed with military force and suppress mention of even today.
He was dismissed in 1987 after allowing students in Beijing to hold initial protests, and new rallies erupted after his death.
But on Monday the Communist party posted a photo slideshow of Hu on its website, while the Liberation Daily, which is run by the propaganda bureau of the Shanghai Communist Party, highlighted other aspects of his career.
It praised Hu for working to rehabilitate purged officials - which helped bring the party out of the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution - and for initiating a drive for openness and reform.
"Hu Yaobang sped up reform and opening and sped up economic development for China, and put all of his heart and energy into it," it said, adding that his efforts were relevant today as China's leaders also push for change.
Since taking over as party chief and national president in recent months, Mr Xi Jinping has touted reform in terms of fighting official graft, restructuring the economy and better serving the people.
"One point is quite similar to Hu Yaobang's time of pressing for reform: reform faced similarly major resistance," the Liberation Daily said.
It quoted Hu as urging party officials to "personally go and learn from the grass-roots levels, experience the suffering of the people".
Several outlets posted links to the Liberation Daily story.
Praise for Hu also came from the chief editor of the state-run Global Times newspaper.
"We should have the courage to face the facts of history. We should have the ability to learn from the power and wisdom of the past. On the anniversary of Yaobang, let's commemorate and think," said Mr Hu Xijin on his page on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Another Weibo poster, a lawyer named Gan Yuanchun, said: "For 24 years, the injustice to him has never been undone."
Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan said that although controls on discussing Hu may have eased somewhat, it did not necessarily indicate broader change.
"It seems the control is a bit looser. But it's hard to say whether it's the party or the newspaper itself," he added.
Hu was publicly praised in 2010 by then premier Wen Jiabao, who was also known as a leader who promoted reform - although his rhetoric was not always matched in practice - and enjoyed popular appeal.
In an unusual move, Wen wrote a tribute to Hu in the ruling party's official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, highlighting his "close ties with the people" and "lofty moral character".