China's parliament announced on Friday it has expelled fallen Chinese political star Bo Xilai from its ranks following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, removing the former Chongqing ruling Chinese Community Party chief's parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a trial.
Bo, whose wife has been convicted of murder, was removed from his post "late last month" by the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"According to the law on deputies to the NPC and to local people's congresses, his post was terminated," the agency quoted the committee as saying.
"Investigations...showed Bo had abused his power, made severe mistakes and borne major responsibility in the [Wang Lijun] incident," Xinhua said, referring to former police chief Wang's Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. Consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the first public sign that all was not well in Chongqing.
Wang was jailed for 15 years last month for "bending the law for selfish ends," "abuse of power," and "defection."
Xinhua on Friday repeated the official view that Bo was also 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.
The announcement comes as China's ruling Communist Party gears up for a crucial leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress on Nov. 8, amid fallout from the worst political scandal to hit the leadership for more than 20 years.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the authorities in the Chinese capital are currently undertaking legal processes to prepare for the trial of Bo Xilai.
"According to the law on [NPC] delegates, in order to take forcible measures against any delegate above county level, for example, criminal detention or formal arrest, this has to be approved by the NPC standing committee," Liu said.
"This is all part of the legal process."
Liu said there is still plenty of time for a court to hold Bo's trial ahead of the Party Congress on the 18th.
But he added that he personally believes that a trial after the Congress now seems more likely.
"I don't think they would try him during the 18th Party Congress," he said.
Quick trial seen
Hong Kong-based political commentator Zhou Bin said he thinks the move means that a pre-Congress trial for Bo now looks more likely.
"I think they will want to wrap up this affair before the...Congress," Zhou said.
"[That way], they won't have to pass on this burden to the new generation of leaders."
"All the decisions about how to handle this have been made by the incumbent administration, and it might run into some obstacles if it were left to the next leadership to handle," he said.
"I don't think the new administration would want to see that."
The Communist Party last month expelled Bo from the Party for bribery and sexual misconduct, saying criminal proceedings against him would follow, and that he was "responsible" for Heywood's murder last November in Chongqing.
Bo's expulsion from the NPC removes the last formal barrier to a trial, although analysts expect this to be held some months after the next generation of Chinese leaders takes over from outgoing president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao.
The court that eventually tries Bo is likely to come down heavily on one of China's former political stars, the "princeling" son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, who has rocked the highest echelons of leadership with the biggest political scandal in two decades.
Political analysts say that the trials of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, and former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun, were both heavily scripted, while a top forensic expert called official evidence against Gu into question.
"Bo was accused of taking advantage of his position to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally or through his family,"
Xinhua said on Friday, in a report that was substantively similar to previous dispatches about Bo.
"His position was utilized by his wife to seek profits for others, and the Bo family accepted a huge amount of money and property from others," it said, adding: "He was also found to have violated organizational and personnel disciplines and made erroneous decisions in certain promotion cases, resulting in serious consequences."
But Bo's fall hasn't gone entirely uncontested by China's political elite.
In the first high-profile and public support of Bo since his expulsion from the Party, more than 300 left-wing Party members penned an open letter to the NPC this week, calling for a fair trial and more information about criminal proceedings against Bo.
Meanwhile, a prominent criminal lawyer surnamed Li appointed to defend Bo by his family has said in media interviews that he hasn't been able to meet with his client, who is currently being held in Beijing's high-profile Qincheng prison, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
He told the paper: "I think the trial shouldn't start before the Congress, as time is too tight, so the rumors that it will start in the next few days are incorrect."
The 300-strong Party Central Committee will start its last meeting of the current 17th Party Congress on Nov. 1, to make way for the new generation of leaders who will be announced at the 18th Congress a few days later.
Reported by Wei Ling for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.