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China's Bo Xilai goes on trial, culmination of dramatic fall

Supporters of disgraced politician Bo Xilai protest outside the Intermediate People''s Court for his trial in Jinan, Shandong Province. (AFP)

Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai appeared in public for the first time in more than a year to face trial in eastern China, the final chapter of the country's most politically charged case in more than three decades.

A court in the city of Jinan said on its microblog feed that Bo, five of his family members and 19 journalists attended the hearing. It did not give details.

Bo, the 64-year old former Communist Party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, faces charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power and will almost certainly be found guilty.

His trial marks the culmination of China's biggest political scandal since the 1976 downfall of the Gang of Four at the end of the Cultural Revolution. It has pitted supporters of his Maoist-themed egalitarian social programmes against the capitalist-leaning economic road taken by the Beijing leadership, exposing divisions within the ruling Communist Party as well as Chinese society.

Bo's trial will last for two days and the verdict is likely to be in early September, state broadcaster CCTV said.

President Xi Jinping, who is embarking on an ambitious plan to rebalance the world's second-biggest economy, will be keen to put the trial behind him with a minimum of fuss to ensure stability and party unity.

A handful of Bo's supporters protested outside the courthouse to denounce what they said was politically motivated persecution, a second day of protests, prompting police to hustle them away.

One protester held a sign that said: "The Chongqing experience is good for the country and the people, common prosperity is what the people want". Another held up a photo of Mao Zedong.

Police blocked entry to the courthouse and lined roads leading to the courthouse and blocked its two gates. Dozens of journalists stood in a box that was cordoned off for the media across the street.

How Bo pleads to the charges will be keenly watched.

A guilty plea would almost certainly signal he has worked out a deal for leniency, but he's likely to plead not guilty to the abuse of power charge in an apparent bid to show that he is a victim of a power struggle, according to a source with ties to the leadership.

Bo was a fast-rising star in China's leadership circles when his career was stopped short last year by a murder scandal involving his wife, Gu Kailai. Gu was accused, and later convicted, of the November 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, a business partner and family friend.

Bo's former police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, has also been jailed for trying to cover up the case. Bo was furious with Wang when he was told that his wife was a murder suspect, and sacked him despite not having party authority to do so, sources with knowledge of the case have said.

Neither did he report the matter to his bosses in Beijing, all of which helped lead to the abuse of power charge, they said.

Bo has also been charged with corruption and bribery, which state media says relates to his time in northeastern China, including a period as mayor of the city of Dalian.

Nevertheless he has been seen by his backers as the victim of a power struggle. Bo's downfall has triggered heated debate between his leftist followers, who are nostalgic for the revolutionary ideals of the Mao Zedong era, and reformers, who advocate faster political and economic change.

"I think it is very clear for Chinese people so far that Bo Xilai is the loser of a power struggle but he did something right at least for the people of Chongqing and Dalian, so he still enjoys quite high popularity among certain sectors of the Chinese populace," said Bo Zhiyue, a professor of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

"That makes the whole trial very, very difficult."

"When comrade Bo Xilai was put under house arrest, it was a violation of the party charter and when he was handed over to the justice system it was a violation of the constitution," said a protester from Chongqing surnamed Li.

"This trial is illegal. We don't believe in any outcome of this trial."

Bo could face a death sentence for his charges, though it is more likely he could be given a suspended death sentence, which effectively means life imprisonment, or a 20-year term.

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Tags:  World  China  Bo Xilai  Trial  





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