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China axes Bo Xilai from Chongqing post after scandal

By Jaime A. FlorCruz and Jethro Mullen, CNN
March 15, 2012 -- Updated 0425 GMT (1225 HKT)
Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai at the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 14, 2012.
Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai at the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 14, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bo Xilai, a prominent Chinese provincial leader, has been dogged by a scandal
  • Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang has replaced Bo as Chongqing Communist Party chief
  • The scandal involved one of Bo's deputies, who is under investigation

Beijing (CNN) -- Bo Xilai, once seen as one of the rising stars of Chinese politics, has been removed from his prominent provincial post after a scandal involving one of his key deputies.

Zhang Dejiang, a Chinese vice premier, will replace Bo as Communist Party chief of Chongqing, the biggest metropolis in southwestern China, the official news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The announcement deals a crippling blow to Bo, a polarizing figure in Chinese politics who many observers had previously considered to be a future contender for the top leadership roles.

In recent years, Bo had pushed a series of aggressive political campaigns in Chongqing, including the "dahei," or anti-gangs initiative, which targeted mafia-like criminal groups. The approach divided opinions in China, with some lauding its effectiveness and others criticizing it as heavy handed.

But in recent weeks, his foothold near the summit of the Chinese Communist Party started to crumble.

Wang Lijun, the man who helped Bo spearhead the anti-criminal crackdown, was also at the heart of the scandal that appears to have brought him down.

Wang is a decorated policeman whom Bo appointed as Chongqing's police chief. Following the well publicized anti-crime push, Wang became a vice mayor of the city.

But in early February, he set off a frenzy of intrigue and speculation by entering the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, six hours' drive from Chongqing, and staying there for one day. Rumors began to circulate that he had tried to defect.

What really transpired in the consulate remains unclear. The United States downplayed it as a scheduled visit and said that Wang left of his own volition. But the Chinese authorities subsequently placed him under investigation.

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, hinted at the level of displeasure in Beijing about the affair during a news conference Wednesday. He said the Chongqing authorities must "seriously" reflect on and draw lessons from the Wang incident.

"As far as the result of the investigation and how this matter will be handled are concerned, an answer must be given to the people and the result of the investigation should be able to stand the test of law and history," Wen said after the conclusion of the annual parliamentary session in Beijing.

His comments now appear to have been an early indication of the fate awaiting Bo.

"The news came faster than I expected," said Wenran Jiang, political science professor at the University of Alberta. But Bo's removal was "not surprising, given Wen Jiabao's tone," he said.

Bo, 62, had served as Chongqing party chief since November 2007. Before that, he was party chief of Liaoning Province, where huge state-run corporations were concentrated. He also served as minister of commerce and mayor of Dalian, a progressive coastal city in northeastern China.

Bo and his successor, Zhang, are members of the policy-making political bureau of the Communist Party of China.

Zhang, 65, is a former party secretary of the economically powerful southern province of Guangdong.

CNN's Tim Schwartz contributed to this report.

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