China's state-run media moved to end "speculation" on Monday about the imminent trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, with a paper linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party indicating it won't happen until after parliamentary meetings in early March.
The Global Times tabloid, which has ties to Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, quoted official sources as saying that Bo's trial would begin only after the annual meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC) in early March.
Next-generation Party chief Xi Jinping, who was appointed at a Party Congress last November, will formally take over from outgoing president Hu Jintao at that time.
"The information in terms of the date and location for the trial will certainly be made public in advance, and it's unnecessary to make speculations," the paper quoted the official as saying.
According to the official, the trial might be very complicated and last up to 10 days.
"Due to the complexity, the case is likely to be heard after the annual two sessions," the official was quoted as saying.
The report follows claims made by the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper, which also has links to the Party, that Bo's trial would open at the southwestern city of Guiyang's Intermediate People's Court on Monday, sending reporters flocking to the city.
Beijing may need more time to prepare the cases against Bo although the authorities want to move quickly on the issue despite talk of factional fighting within the Party, analysts said.
Yao Jianfu, a former researcher at a State Council think-tank, said it had taken some time to prepare corruption cases against former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and Shanghai mayor Chen Liangyu.
"It wouldn't be surprising if it took a while to come to trial," Yao said. "Both Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu were also Politburo members, and it took more than a year for their trials to begin."
But he said the new leadership may also wish to move more quickly than that.
"If they resolve this sooner rather than later, Hu Jintao will bear responsibility for it, and the burden of sorting out the Bo Xilai issue won't fall to Xi Jinping," he said.
Political affairs commentator Gao Xin said that the delay in Bo's criminal trial suggested continuing factional strife behind the scenes at the highest levels of the Communist Party between the second generation heirs of Party elders, known as princelings, liberal reformers and the Maoist left wing.
"If these charges had been leveled against another Party member who wasn't also a member of the princelings faction, then Bo Xilai, given that his crimes have already been announced, would have been sacrificed on the altar of Xi Jinping's...anti-graft campaign by now," Gao said in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service.
"Bo's rap sheet is enough...to get him several death sentences with immediate execution...Are the old guard putting pressure on Xi Jinping not to act? We will have to see!"
Meanwhile, writer and historian Zhang Lifan said the Ta Kung Pao report suggested that there had been a swift change of plan at the highest levels, rather than an error in the paper's journalism.
He said the trial may have been delayed because the feisty Bo was refusing to co-operate.
"There are probably factors to do with the highest levels of leadership, but probably also to do with Bo himself," Zhang said. "If he's not being cooperative, they won't be able to go ahead with a trial."
"If there was a messy situation of the kind seen at the trial of [Mao's wife] Jiang Qing, this would be embarrasing, and wouldn't reflect well on the fairness or authority of the trial," he said.
Rule of law
The speculation over the timing of Bo's trial comes after his successor in Chongqing, Huang Qifan, vowed that the city would shake off the impact of the Bo scandal and uphold the rule of law.
Bo's case was formally transferred to the judiciary earlier this month, marking the beginning of criminal proceedings.
The Party expelled Bo from its ranks in October, following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, later also removing his parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a criminal trial.
Bo was judged to bear "major responsibility" in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, for which his wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence on Aug. 20, official media reports said at the time.
His former right-hand man and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun was jailed for 15 years in September for "bending the law for selfish ends," "abuse of power," and "defection," after his Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu brought the murder scandal to public attention.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.