Senior leader Deng Xiaoping said Thursday that he skipped the opening session of China's legislature so he could "conserve my health and live longer.

"I seldom do the daily work (of government) now," Deng told visiting President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda during Deng's first public appearance since the National People's Congress opened on Monday.Deng, 84, did not attend even though he is a delegate to the congress from his home province, Si-chuan. Government officials said only that Deng had asked for leave.

Deng confirmed to Museveni, "I have asked for leave. I want to conserve my health and live longer. What is more important is that I should gradually withdraw from the stage and let others preside over the work."

He noted that new government and party leaders were chosen in 1987 and 1988. Deng retired from all his posts except that of chairman of the Central Military Commission, which sets military policy.

"We should not let the new leaders feel that there is a kind of force above them," Deng said.

"Yes, but young people need the guidance and leadership of the older generation," Museveni responded.