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Tuesday 16 January 2018

China 'struggling' with Bo scandal

Politician awaits fate after wife's murder charge

ONCE A CONTENDER: Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai
ONCE A CONTENDER: Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai

Chris Buckley in CHONGQING

CHINA'S leadership faced continued resistance this weekend in its efforts to hand down final judgement against deposed politician Bo Xilai, despite moving swiftly to wrap up a murder charge against his wife who now risks the death penalty.

Mr Bo, once a contender for the top rungs of power, and his wife have been disgraced in the nation's biggest political scandal in two decades, which centres on the murder in China of a British businessman who had been a close family friend.

Mr Bo has not been implicated in the murder but has been accused of breaching internal party discipline, sometimes code for corruption.

Last Thursday, China charged Mr Bo's glamorous wife, Gu Kailai, with poisoning expatriate Neil Heywood last year in a proceeding which lawyers expect to end swiftly with a conviction and lead to a life sentence, or possibly her execution by lethal injection. A lawyer employed by Ms Gu's family has said the trial will likely start early next month.

However, shutting the door on the political case against Mr Bo, who still faces party disciplinary proceedings, could prove to be much more difficult, given the former party boss of Chongqing city retains some strong support at the party's grass roots.

Despite months of unanswered allegations against the Bo family from police and party sources, Mr Bo's leftist supporters are uncowed and see the case as political revenge, said Zhang Hongliang, an influential far-left intellectual in Beijing.

"You ask why do so many Chinese leftists welcome the policies Bo Xilai implemented in Chongqing. It's simple: because those policies were welcomed by the vast majority of ordinary people," Zhang said last week.

"Whatever personal problems Bo Xilai might have, that's a completely different matter than his policies in Chongqing," he added in comments emailed a day before Ms Gu's indictment.

In Chongqing last Friday, a sprawling metropolis of around 30 million people where Mr Bo cast himself as a populist dedicated to fighting crime and helping the poor, vocal support was still easy to find, despite his removal from all party posts in April.

All of Chongqing's newspapers carried the official announcement of Ms Gu's murder indictment on their front pages, and one newspaper hawker said many residents were disbelieving.

"I can tell you that 100 per cent of ordinary people, or at least 95 per cent, support Bo Xilai," said the hawker. "He did many good things for people in Chongqing and gave us a sense of safety."

Sunday Independent

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