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China hopes trial can end scandal

BEIJING -- China's decision to try fallen politician Bo Xilai's wife for murder underscores Communist leaders' determination to draw a line under a scandal that has engulfed the party ahead of a power handover, analysts say.

China announced Thursday that Bo's wife Gu Kailai and an aide to the couple had been charged with poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood, who was found dead in a hotel room in the southwestern city of Chongqing last November.

It was the latest development in a sensational case that has brought down one of the country's most high-profile political leaders and exposed deep divisions in the ruling Communist party ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership handover.

Bo, the son of a revered Communist revolutionary, won national fame with a draconian crackdown on criminal elements in Chongqing and a “red revival” campaign marked by the mass singing of old Maoist-era songs.

The rapid unraveling of his fortunes earlier this year exposed a harsh factional reaction against the charismatic Chongqing party secretary, who had ambitions to join the elite nine-member group that effectively rules China.

Analysts said Thursday's announcement indicated that senior Communist chiefs, keen to settle the Bo affair before a new generation takes the reins of power later this year, had reached broad agreement on his fate.

“There won't be any more surprises. They are trying to shift the focus to Gu Kailai, so it is quite possible that Bo Xilai will not be treated harshly,” said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“This could be out of necessity for party unity, for the sake of harmony before the party Congress.”

Several academics said the announcement indicated that Bo, who is being investigated by the party for “violating party discipline” — usually code for corruption — would be spared criminal charges.

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