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Bo Xilai admits mistakes, defends record of service

BEIJING -- Under fire over a scandal that threatens his career, senior Chinese leader Bo Xilai (薄熙來) confidently hit back Friday, admitting lapses in judgment while defending the controversial anti-mafia crackdown that made him popular.

Bo's remarks to reporters were his most extensive in the three weeks since the police chief in the inland mega-city he runs, Chongqing, fled overnight to a U.S. Consulate and brought into the open their bruising power struggle that has dimmed Bo's political star. His defense was all the more remarkable because China's leaders rarely admit mistakes or explain their actions to the public, and almost never to the media.

“I feel like I put my trust in the wrong person as a manager,” Bo said of his ex-police chief and former right-hand man, Wang Lijun, who is under investigation. “So this incident is something we need to seriously reflect on.”

Bo fielded questions for more than an hour as the mayor of Chongqing and other city delegates to the national legislature looked on, playing down any ambitions to enter the uppermost echelon of Communist Party power. He rejected suggestions his family was corrupt and praised the work he has done in Chongqing to reduce a rich-poor gap that he said has crossed a dangerous threshold of inequality nationwide.

“If only a few people are rich, then we are capitalists. We've failed,” said Bo, appearing relaxed and at his telegenic best in a navy suit and yellow tie and seated in an armchair in the Chongqing Hall in the Great Hall of the People.

Time and again Bo was asked about the scandal, which has mostly been kept out of state media but has circulated ferociously on Twitter-like services. Over the past week the scandal has sprawled as a retired politician committed suicide, allegations that Wang used torture against businessmen in the anti-gang crusade resurfaced, and a local entrepreneur was arrested after he promised more startling revelations.

Bo mostly parried the questions. He said that he was taken by surprise by Wang's sudden flight to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, though he declined to say why if Wang sought political asylum as rumored or what charges the ex-police chief faces now that he is in custody in Beijing. He denied rumors that he offered to resign.

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China's Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) holds a press conference on Friday, March 9th, answering sharp questions directed at him by foreign and local media. During the conference, he often looked up at the ceiling, as if deep in thought. (CNA)

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