China sacks once-powerful Communist leader

Beijing: Acting tough, China`s ruling Communist Party today sacked its high-profile party chief of southwestern Chongqing city Bo Xilai, amidst a scandal after his underling took refuge in the US Consulate.

The purge of the charismatic but controversy-ridden leader came ahead of major leadership transition in the nation and just hours after Premier Wen Jiabao publicly censured him over the issue.

Bo, who was replaced by Vice Premier and Politburo member Zhang Dejiang, was known in China for his populist Maoists revival campaign and had been seen as one of the leading contenders to join party`s powerful nine-member Politburo standing committee, which virtually governs the country.

62-year-old Bo will no longer serve as secretary, standing committee member or member of the CPC Chongqing municipal committee, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

A separate announcement said Wang Lijun, the Vice Mayor and the Police Chief of Chongqing who ran into the US Consulate in Changdu last month apparently to save his life and reportedly sought refuge, was also sacked.

CPC has decided to remove Wang Lijun from the position of vice mayor of Chongqing, a senior party official told the news agency. He will be replaced by He Ting, Vice Governor and police chief of Qinghai Province, the official said.

While Wang is being investigated, whereabouts of Bo was not known. Bo was last seen meeting the press on March 9 on the sidelines of the National People`s Congress to explain his stand. Speculation is rife that he may be taken into custody for investigations.

Bo, a high-profile son of a former hero of the party, became mayor of Dalian, Liaoning province, in 1993. He served as governor of Liaoning and minister of commerce before being appointed Party chief of Chongqing in 2007.

Bo became famous in recent years for his massive crackdown on local mafias in Chongqing, besides making it one of the highly developed cities of China. The crackdown was conducted on the ground by Wang.

But his Rambo-style image suffered serious damage after Wang ran into the US Consulate in Changdu last month apparently to save his life and reportedly sought refuge.

Wang came out after a day`s hard negotiations and whisked away to an unknown place for investigation. He reportedly spilled a lot of information relating to Bo`s activities including his alleged lavish lifestyle.

The incident, which took place before Vice President Xi Jinping`s image building visit to US, turned out to be most embarrassing for Beijing as it highlighted the factional feud going on within the party ahead of the leadership this year.

While Xi is tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao, Bo was expected to get elected to the Politburo Standing Committee.

Bo`s sacking came after Wen in his annual press conference on Wednesday described Wang`s incident as a serious one requiring a through probe and asked the local unit of the party to introspect on it.

The incident received high attention in China and the world, Wen said, adding that authorities have "taken this matter very seriously" and instructed relevant departments to start investigation.

"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.

Bo is also regarded as a hardliner as he attempted to revive Mao Zedong`s legacy playing up the old red songs in the local television. This sets off speculation the discarded Mao ideology, replaced by the moderate socialist philosophy of his successor Deng Xiaoping in 1976 which set off China`s economic development, is being revived by the section of party which also blocked political reforms.