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Former Star of China’s Communist Party Ousted, Fallen from Favor of Leadership

September 28, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: China’s ruling communist party ousted one of its former stars today, after a year-long soap opera-like scandal.

Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: Once a flamboyant reformer headed for the top, today, Bo Xilai stands expelled from the party and facing criminal charges.

Bo’s not been seen publicly since March, when he was removed as party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing, while rumors swirled of a murder scandal involving his wife. The 63-year-old politician had been considered a contender for the highest ranks of China’s leadership.

But his brash style, his anti-corruption crusades, and his campaign to revive the red songs of the Mao era antagonized many party leaders in Beijing. His drastic change in fortune stems from the murder last November of British businessman Neil Heywood and its subsequent cover-up.

Last month, Bo’s once-fashionable wife, Gu Kailai, was handed a suspended death sentence after admitting to poisoning her business partner Heywood at a Chongqing hotel. In that affair, the party said today Bo had abused his powers of office, committed serious errors, and bears a major responsibility.

Other charges of corruption, taking huge bribes, and conducting multiple sexual affairs go back more than a decade, as Bo rose from mayor of the eastern port of Dalian to minister of commerce to the Chongqing post.

The official statement reported by the Xinhua News Agency read: “Bo’s behaviors have yielded serious consequences, badly undermined the reputation of the party and the country, created very negative impacts at home and abroad, and significantly damaged the cause of the party and the people.”

The statement went on to announce that the next Communist Party conference will convene November 8.

MAN: Having settled this contentious issue, the party leadership is in a position to start the party congress with a facade of unity and also harmony and persuading the Chinese public, as well as foreign audiences, that the party is united and also ready to face the challenges.

MARGARET WARNER: Coming just two days after the U.S. election, the Congress will unveil the next generation of leaders who will run China for the coming decade.

Xi Jinping, currently vice president, is expected to become president as Hu Jintao steps down. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao plans to retire, too. Likely to replace him is Li Keqiang, now vice premier.

The change in leadership comes at a key juncture in China’s meteoric rise to the world’s number-two economic power.

After largely sidestepping the global financial crisis through stimulus spending, the country’s now grappling with slower growth, an expected 7.5 percent this year, after more than 9 percent last year. It’s seeing a drop in exports and industrial output, and ongoing labor unrest.