China high-profile murder trial opens

Beijing: Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai`s wife, accused of murdering a British businessman, went on trial today in a high-profile case following a major political scandal that rocked the ruling CPC and cost her husband his job.

Bo`s wife Gu Kailai, herself a former top lawyer, and her orderly Zhang Xiaojun were charged with the murder of British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood, who was poisoned to death in November last year.

The murder trial is being held in Hefei city, even though Heywood`s murder took place at Chongqing, to avoid any reprisals as Bo, 63, ruled the city when he was the head of the Communist Party of China`s local unit and had built his support base.

Bo was considered a popular leader due to his strong campaigns against mafias, making the city crime free.

Dozens of uniformed and plain-clothe policemen were stationed around the court building, where a convoy of black cars was seen arriving this morning, as the trial of 53-year-old Gu began, BBC reported.

British diplomats are being allowed to witness the trial but not foreign journalists. In her trial, Gu is being represented by state-appointed lawyers.

State media reports last month had quoted prosecutors as saying that there was substantial evidence about her involvement. Some reports said she had even confessed to her involvement in the murder.

The trial is expected to last a few days, amid speculation that Gu may get death sentence, which could be commuted to life.

Gu`s alleged involvement in the murder of Heywood came to light as Bo`s deputy and Police Chief of Chongqing, who had reportedly investigated the case, took shelter in the US Consulate in Chengdu city fearing reprisals from Bo.

He came out of the US mission after a team of central officials assured him of security cover. Like Bo, he too has been sacked and imprisoned pending investigations.

While Bo is being investigated by Party apparatus for indiscipline and alleged attempts to protect his wife, Gu was arrested along with her orderly and charged with murder.

The trial is taking place as China is preparing to install a new generation of leaders. Earlier, Bo had been seen as a strong contender for one of the top jobs.

Son of a former Communist leader, Bo became popular for his attempts to revive Mao`s ideology highlighting the growing rich-poor divide in present day China.

His moves reportedly irked the present lot of CPC leaders as they are all followers of late moderate leader, Dang Xiaoping, who succeeded Mao after his death and opened China for economic reforms setting aside the socialist policies.

The Communist Party Congress is expected to be held in November to elect a new set of leaders to replace President Hu Jintao and others who would be retiring this year after a decade-long stint in power.