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Senior Chinese leader sacked in rare scandal

15 march 2012, 15:51
Bo Xilai, the charismatic but controversial Communist Party secretary of Chongqing. ©AFP
Bo Xilai, the charismatic but controversial Communist Party secretary of Chongqing. ©AFP
Bo Xilai, the charismatic but controversial Communist Party leader of China's Chongqing metropolis, has been removed from his post, AFP citing the state news agency Xinhua.

The move, which comes ahead of a major leadership transition in China's ruling party later this year, follows weeks of intense speculation about Bo's future after a key aide reportedly tried to defect to the United States.

Bo, who is known in China for his populist Maoist revival campaign, will be replaced by vice-premier Zhang Dejiang, according to a brief statement on Xinhua that gave no reason for his dismissal.

The former commerce minister had been seen as one of the leading contenders to join the Communist Party's politburo standing committee -- the apex of political power in China -- later this year.

But that changed on February 6 when Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief who masterminded Bo's crackdown on corruption in the southwestern municipality, visited a US consulate and reportedly asked for asylum.

Wang has been placed under investigation in the wake of the unusually open political scandal, which led to a rare public rebuke from China's Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday.

Bo, the 62-year-old son of a Chinese revolutionary, made a name for himself with his crackdown on corruption, which led to scores of senior officials being jailed in Chongqing -- a sprawling megacity of some 30 million people.

But his revival of "red" culture, which includes sending officials to work in the countryside, red chorales at state-run firms and patriotic television shows, sparked concern among liberals in the party.

On Wednesday Wen Jiabao, delivering his final press conference before he bows out as premier next year, said officials must "learn lessons" from the Wang incident -- comments seen as a rare public rebuke to a top party leader.

Analysts said Bo's openly ambitious style had likely damaged his career long before the Wang incident, which had been used by his enemies as a way to go after him.

"Bo Xilai always made a big chunk of the leadership very uncomfortable. They found his whole style of campaigning for a Standing Committee position to be offensive," said Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"To put yourself forward and court publicity in the way that he did was so out of line with the way things had been done -- that was seen as offensive to a lot of people.

"He's very open, very confident, very charismatic and that's not the way most Chinese leaders behave and that is not the way they feel comfortable with their peers behaving."

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a politics professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, said the Wang affair had weakened Bo, but that his downfall stemmed from his controversial crackdown on corruption.

"It created waves that went to the very heart of the establishment," he said.

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