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China paves way for prosecuting disgraced politician Bo Xilai

China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (L) and Deputy Mayor of Chongqing Wang Lijun (R) sing the national anthem
China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (L) and Deputy Mayor of Chongqing Wang Lijun (R) sing the national anthem

By Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's largely rubber stamp parliament has expelled disgraced former senior politician Bo Xilai, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, paving the way for formal criminal charges to be laid against him.

The expulsion removes Bo's immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament. Xinhua said the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, "announced the termination of Bo Xilai's post" as the deputy to the parliament.

The announcement comes a fortnight before the Communist Party holds a key congress, which opens on November 8, that will unveil the country's new central leadership.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief, Wang Lijun, have both been jailed over the scandal, which stems from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood while Bo was Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing.

The government last month accused Bo of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the murder.

Before Bo is charged and tried, investigators must first complete an inquiry and indict him, but China's prosecutors and courts come under party control and are unlikely to challenge the accusations.

A lawyer for Bo, who has been employed by the family to represent him, said on Thursday he was unable to say whether the government would allow him to represent Bo when the case comes to trial.

"It's theatre," said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, who spoke before Bo's expulsion was announced.

"The judiciary grinds into action only when the outcome has been determined. There is no indication we will see a genuine trial because Bo knows too much."

Bo, 63, was widely seen as pursuing a powerful spot in the new leadership before his career unraveled after Wang fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February and alleged that Bo's wife had poisoned Heywood.

DISAPPEARED FROM VIEW

An official account of Wang's trial in September said Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, southwest China, after Bo beat him and stripped him of his police job following Wang's decision to confront Bo with the murder allegations against Gu.

Bo, a former commerce minister, used his post as Communist Party chief of Chongqing in southwest China since 2007 to cast the sprawling, haze-covered municipality into a showcase for his mix of populist policies and bold spending plans that won support from leftists yearning for a charismatic leader.

Wang had spearheaded Bo's controversial campaign against organized crime, a prominent plank in Bo's barely concealed campaign to join the topmost ranks of the Communist Party.

Bo was dismissed from his Chongqing post in March, and suspended from the party's top ranks in April, when his wife Gu was named as an official suspect in the murder in November of Heywood, a long-time friend of the couple who also helped their son Bo Guagua settle into study in Britain.

Bo has disappeared from public view since he was dismissed and has not had a chance to respond publicly to the accusations against him.

The removal of Bo has disrupted the Communist Party's usually secretive and carefully choreographed process of settling on a new central leadership.

Sharply dressed and courting publicity, Bo stood out in a party of stolid conformists, and he promoted Chongqing as a bold egalitarian alternative to China's current pattern of growth.

But Bo's promotion of "red" culture inspired by Mao Zedong's era and his campaign-style crackdown on crime prompted fears that he was rekindling some of the arbitrary lawlessness of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s -- a criticism that Premier Wen Jiabao spelled out before the public in mid-March.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait)

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