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Bo Xilai sentenced to life in prison: court
by Staff Writers
Jinan, China (AFP) Sept 22, 2013

Bo Xilai: rise and fall of a political star in China
Beijing (AFP) Sept 22, 2013 - With a suave demeanour, well-cut suits and an easy smile, Bo Xilai presented, in his heyday, a stark contrast to the usual ranks of stiff, buttoned-up Chinese politicians.

But his open ambition and lobbying for promotion, coupled with his "princeling" status as the son of a hero of China's revolution, irritated some of his colleagues in the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.

His revival of "red" culture, sending officials to work in the countryside and pushing workers to sing revolutionary songs, also raised eyebrows.

The ousted political star was sentenced by a court to life in prison on Sunday, convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in the country's highest-profile trial for decades.

During the five-day proceedings last month, Bo reinforced his larger-than-life persona with an unapologetic defence and grilling of witnesses.

Enjoying a rare chance as a Chinese defendant to speak out, he dismissed his wife as "insane" and a close aide as secretly being in love with her.

He admitted to having affairs himself, though he insisted on his modesty by saying his underwear was 50 years old.

Born in 1949 -- the year the Party took power in China -- Bo embraced his leftist streak despite tragedy suffered by his family during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, a decade of deadly chaos launched by then-leader Mao Zedong in which youths tormented their elders and officials were purged.

His father, revolutionary general Bo Yibo, was jailed and tortured and his mother beaten to death, while Bo Xilai himself spent time in a labour camp.

But after Mao died and reformist leader Deng Xiaoping took over, Bo Yibo was rehabilitated and became one of the most powerful men in China, a party "immortal" who retained influence over state affairs through the 1990s.

The father's outsized stature bestowed on the son an impeccable pedigree that long protected him -- and may have also facilitated his rise through the ranks.

Bo studied history at Peking University and took a master's degree in journalism from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences -- an educational background that stands out in the crowd of engineers and scientists who make up China's political elite.

For nearly two decades from 1985 he was based in China's northeastern rustbelt, first as mayor of Dalian, a decaying port city that he is credited with transforming into a modern investment hub.

He brought glamour and attention to the city with flashy signature projects including a mounted female police squad, international fashion show and successful football team.

There, he left his first wife, with whom he had one son, for Gu Kailai -- another privileged child of a renowned general, herself an accomplished lawyer who also studied at Peking University.

Bo was promoted to governor of Liaoning province and in 2004 entered the Beijing limelight as China's commerce minister, dazzling foreign counterparts with his modern, can-do attitude.

During that time, he hosted many foreign visitors including EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, with whom he appeared to be on genuinely friendly terms.

Outside observers who said his move to the megacity of Chongqing in the southwest in 2007 would push him out of the limelight found themselves proved wrong.

Yet those who had praised Bo as relatively liberal grew disillusioned, particularly with his ruthless corruption crackdown which saw scores of officials detained -- some executed -- and has since been criticised as flouting the law.

An early critic, journalist Jiang Weiping, was jailed for five years in 2000 and later moved to Canada after accusing Bo and Gu of corruption in Dalian as early as the 1990s.

Fallen Chinese political star Bo Xilai was sentenced by a court to life in prison Sunday, following a sensational scandal that culminated in the country's highest-profile trial in decades.

The sentence was announced by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on its verified page on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Bo, one of China's top 25 politicians before his dramatic downfall, was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

"The court sentences Bo Xilai to life imprisonment for taking bribes, deprives him of his political rights for life and confiscates all his property," it said in a statement.

The court convicted Bo of taking 20.4 million yuan ($3.3 million) in bribes.

It also said it gave Bo 15 years in prison for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.

A photo posted by the court showed a hand-cuffed Bo, dressed in an open-collared white shirt, black trousers and black athletic shoes, in the court surrounded by four uniformed police officers.

At a press conference, court spokesman Liu Yanjie said that Bo did not indicate in court whether or not he would appeal.

The catalyst for Bo's fall came when his top aide in mega-city Chongqing, where he was party chief, fled to a US consulate with evidence the politician's wife had murdered a British associate in February 2012.

With factions in the upper echelons of the Communist Party reportedly split over how to handle him, a year and a half passed before he went to trial, becoming the most high-profile official to do so in decades.

In last month's gripping five-day hearing he mounted a fierce defence against claims that he corruptly obtained money and abused his political position to cover up the killing committed by his wife.

The bribery charges had made the 64-year-old Bo eligible for the death penalty, though analysts had seen that possibility as remote.

Joseph Cheng, a China politics expert at City University of Hong Kong, said that Bo's active contestation of the charges during his trial was a factor in the harsh sentence.

"A defiant attitude and refusing to admit one's guilt is considered bad behaviour and attracts a heavier sentence," Cheng told AFP.

"Bo Xilai would certainly like to retain a chance of a political comeback, and a heavier sentence from the state certainly indicates a rejection of any chance of giving him a political comeback," he added.

"This deprivation of political rights for life is an implicit answer to that kind of demand."

The proceedings took place amid stepped up security outside the court, with dozens of police surrounding the building in Jinan, capital of eastern China's Shandong province.

Dozens of police, some uniformed and others in plain clothes surrounded the court on Sunday. Barricades and barriers were erected more than 50 metres away from the court to prevent people from approaching.

A select group of media was allowed into a penned off area in front of the courthouse, where they clamoured to take photos of vehicles entering the court.

Though edited transcripts from the trial were posted online, China's government has tightly controlled information about Bo's case, and police erected barriers to stop pedestrians from entering areas around the court.

Passers-by hurried towards a shopping centre, showing little interest in the proceedings.

"Ordinary people don't know much about these political matters," a 22-year-old motorcycle driver surnamed Guo said Saturday, as he sheltered from rain outside a noodle restaurant. "Top officials are very distant from our everyday lives."

Bo poured billions into public works and social housing programmes while party chief of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, where he launched a high-profile anti-crime campaign that won him admirers across China.

Despite his popularity, reports of forced confessions and torture during the crime crackdown horrified Chinese liberals, while some top party leaders saw his ambition as challenging the party's cherished unity.

The verdict comes as China's new leadership under President Xi Jinping attempts to show it is cracking down on corruption, which he has said threatens the existence of the Communist Party.

But locals in Jinan expressed a widely held belief that trials of top officials are the outcome of political infighting, rather than purely legal proceedings.

"Bo is the kind of leader ordinary Chinese respect, he did a good job in Chongqing" said Lu Mingcai, a 63-year-old retired chauffeur.

"His mistake is a political one. It's got nothing to do with whether he was corrupt or not," Lu said, adding: "Bo will go to prison for sure."

Liu Qing, a middle-aged market stall owner said: "(Bo) has been sacrificed in a political struggle. I don't know if he was corrupt. What government official isn't corrupt these days?"

Despite the life sentence, Bo might not spend all his remaining days in prison. In the past, senior Chinese politicians given prison terms have reportedly been released on medical parole and held under strict security at their family homes.


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Hotel-style prison awaits China's Bo Xilai: inmates
Qincheng, China (AFP) Sept 22, 2013
Fallen high-flyer Bo Xilai can expect hotel-style treatment at a jail for China's political elite, where he will enjoy comfortable surroundings but be constantly monitored by government agents, former prisoners say. Hidden in wooded hills north of Beijing, guards stand outside the red gate of Qincheng prison, where the once-powerful Bo is widely expected to begin his life sentence after bein ... read more

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