Bo Xilai's trial to start on Thursday

CHINA - Disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai will go on trial on Thursday in Jinan, Shandong province, as Beijing aims to finally bring to a close one of China's worst political scandals ahead of an agenda-setting party meeting.

The court "will publicly try accused Bo Xilai for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power at 8.30am on Aug 22", the Jinan intermediate court announced on its microblog account yesterday.

Bo, 64, is set to be convicted in the most politically sensitive trial since the Gang of Four, led by Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing, was tried in 1976.

But observers expect him to escape the gallows, going by the relatively light charges against him.

Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping and other top leaders have ended their annual pow- wow at the Beidaihe resort, where they were likely to have reached agreement on how to deal with the former Politburo member.

Bo will be only the third Politburo member to be tried for corruption, after former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and ex-Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu.

Coming nearly a month after charges were announced, the trial will cap a saga that unravelled in February last year when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun fled to the American consulate in nearby Chengdu, Sichuan province. His revelations lifted the lid on a true-life scandal of sex, murder and corruption, and resulted in Bo's wife Gu Kailai being handed a suspended death sentence in August last year for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Wang was jailed 15 years for his role in the murder, among other things.

The scandal sparked the political demise of Bo, a former Dalian mayor and commerce minister who was a contender for promotion to the elite Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th Party Congress last November.

Thursday's trial will see Bo make his first public appearance since losing his Chongqing job in March last year. Observers are waiting to see whether his wife will testify against him.

Some netizens on Sunday called for a live broadcast of the trial. Bo is a polarising figure and a champion of Maoist values such as social equality. He is also seen by many to be as much a victim of political struggle as an official accused of corruption.

"Let's have a live telecast," posted real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang on his Sina weibo account, a call supported by others who noted that the Gang of Four trial was shown live.

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