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Dissent targeted in attack on disgraced ex-Chongqing chief

BEIJING--China's apparent decision to throw the book at disgraced politician Bo Xilai is aimed at killing support for a leader at the core of a scandal that tarnished the Communist Party and threatened its cherished unity, analysts said.

China said Friday that the former rising political star would “face justice” for a litany of crimes including abuse of power, bribery and “improper sexual relationships” — an unprecedented rebuke for a top Communist official.

Allegations of graft and other lurid details in a scandal that has already seen Bo's wife convicted of murder have caused divisions within the secretive party ahead of a sensitive leadership transition, observers said.

Residual support for the charismatic Bo has worried a Chinese leadership that insists on total allegiance to the course set by the party, and the attack on Bo is meant to exterminate it, they said.

“Bo Xilai could have become a populist hero, which would have been bad for current leaders ... it's enough to name his crimes to shatter the illusion of Bo as a heroic figure,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing.

Bo, a former commerce minister and party boss of the megacity of Chongqing, was known for his suave and open demeanor, unusual in a country where leaders are typically rigid bureaucrats, and for his open lobbying for promotion to the top national leadership.

But this irritated many in the Communist Party and violated a code against naked ambition and other ill-discipline — a lesson learned from the divisive and disastrous political campaigns of Communist founder Mao Zedong.

Bo's populist style of leadership included a nostalgic revival of Mao-era “red culture” that, along with a high-profile crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing, had wide popular appeal.

“I think that (Chinese president and party chief) Hu Jintao has scored some kind of victory because Hu and (Premier Wen Jiabao) wanted stiff punishment against Bo as opposed to some party elders and Maoist elements,” said China politics analyst Willy Lam.

The scandal, which first emerged earlier this year, came at a highly sensitive time as the party prepares for a once-a-decade transition to a new set of top leaders that will be unveiled in a congress opening on Nov. 8.

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