The ruling Chinese Communist Party has suspended ousted Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai from the highest echelons of leadership while his wife has been named as a suspect in the murder of a British businessman, official media reported Tuesday.
The report is the first official word on the fate of Bo, who was removed from his post as party secretary of the sprawling southwestern municipality on March 15 amid rampant speculation of a power struggle among China's secretive political elite ahead of a key leadership succession later this year.
The official Xinhua news agency said that Bo's removal, which analysts said effectively ends the career of one of China's rising political stars, came under regulations governing the conduct of disciplinary investigations of ruling Party members.
"In view of the fact that Comrade Bo Xilai is suspected of a serious breach of discipline, the Central Committee has decided ... to terminate his membership of the Politburo and the Central Committee, pending the investigation of his case," Xinhua reported.
The Central Committee is a panel of about 200 members who meet about once a year, while the Politburo is a more powerful body of about two dozen Central Committee members.
In a separate report, Xinhua said Chinese police have reopened a probe into the death of British businessman Neil Heywood after finding evidence Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai may have been involved in his murder.
Gu Kailai has been "transferred to judicial authorities on suspected crime of intentional homicide" of Neil Heywood, Xinhua said.
"Police set up a team to reinvestigate the case of the British national Neil Heywood who was found dead in Chongqing," it added.
Bo Xilai was one of China's most high-profile politicians and a rising star in the ruling Communist Party until his March sacking.
Bo's downfall has sparked ideological tensions between right and left in the Party, and has given ordinary Chinese a rare glimpse into the world of political power-brokering in the corridors of Zhongnanhai, where the central leadership is based.
His ouster as Chongqing chief, where he had blazed a political trail for himself with his revolutionary song galas and hard-line anti-crime campaigns, came shortly after the flight of his former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.
Wang was taken into custody by Party investigators after emerging from the U.S. mission. Both his and Bo's whereabouts are still unknown.
Xinhua's report came hard on the heels of a similar report on Tuesday from Reuters, quoting unnamed political sources, which was passed around rapidly by netizens on China's hugely popular microblogging platforms.
The authorities were so concerned by the proliferation of political rumors, which included one about a coup attempt by security chief Zhou Yongkang last month, that they disabled the comment functions on popular microblogging services like Sina and Tencent for four days last week.
In a further sign of the level of official unease during China's transition from one generation of leaders to the next, official media have published a blistering series of editorials hitting out at government opponents, or anyone who passes on information online "without knowing it to be true," in recent days.
"[They told us] not to believe the rumors, and now we have waited till late this evening to find that actually a lot of the rumors were true," wrote user @zhangbolan on the Sina microblogging service.
"So Brother Bo is really finished," commented @laolaolaonanhaiyimei on a post that was retweeted more than 69,000 times and which garnered more than 1,400 comments.
"So we don't need to listen to rumors any more," added @ziyoudeandy777. "I guess we are allowed to retweet this one," added @tiandiyishaou21168 after the Xinhua report was released.
Many comments expressed surprise that the Reuters reports had been published ahead of Xinhua, underlining for many netizens the tight controls on China's domestic media outlets.
Political sources told Reuters that Bo's posts had only been suspended, adding that the Central Committee would be required to hold a plenum to formally strip him of his Politburo and Central Committee memberships.
However, analysts told Reuters that the decision sounded a clear death-knell for Bo's political ambitions, which had once been widely assumed to include a post on the all-powerful, nine-member Politburo Standing Committee.
The new Standing Committee lineup will not be revealed until the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Wang's flight to the U.S. consulate and his allegations prompted the British government to urge an investigation into the death in November of Heywood, who Wang said was close to Bo's family and had a dispute with Gu.
A prominent businessman who fled overseas to escape Bo's campaigns in Chongqing said last week that the Maoist revival campaigns during his tenure in the city were more horrific than the bloody Cultural Revolution.
Li Jun headed the multibillion-dollar Junfeng Development Corp. before fleeing China in 2010 to evade arrest during the anti-corruption campaigns orchestrated by Bo and his police chief Wang Lijun.
"Everyone was afraid they were in danger; it was a very frightening time, because they were just arresting people all over the place and then packaging them up as several hundred members of triad gangs," Li told RFA's Cantonese service in a video interview last week.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.