The anti-graft agency of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Friday announced the expulsion from the party of a former top safety official linked to the deadly Tianjin blasts in August and another ally of disgraced former security czar Zhou Yongkang.
Former director of the State Administration of Work Safety Yang Dongliang, 61, was expelled from the party after a probe by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) found
"particularly severe" violations of discipline, the CCDI said in a statement on its website.
Yang, also a former deputy mayor of Tianjin, had worked in the city for 18 years, during which time he "lost his ideals and conviction," the statement said.
Yang stands accused of embezzlement of public assets, misuse of a position of power to help his son's career, and taking bribes from companies, it said.
Yang's case has now been transferred to judicial authorities, paving the way for criminal proceedings in a party-controlled judicial system that rarely acquits any defendants.
The expulsion of former Zhou Yongkang ally Zhou Benshun was announced in the same statement.
Zhou network in court
Zhou, formerly provincial party secretary for Hebei, which borders Beijing, was found to have "illegally kept ... and leaked party and state secrets," the CCDI said.
He is also accused of making comments not in keeping with the party line on major issues, and taking bribes, and will also face criminal proceedings, it said.
The announcement comes after six other associates of Zhou Yongkang's powerful political network, which spanned the nationwide state security regime, the petrochemicals and mining industries and the southwestern province of Sichuan, were in court this week, with four sentenced to jail terms of 12-20 years and verdicts pending on the other two.
"It is common knowledge that Zhou Benshun was an acolyte of Zhou Yongkang," Guangzhou-based political commentator Ye Du told RFA on Friday.
"When Zhou Yongkang was head of the Politics and Legal Affairs Commission, Zhou Benshun was secretary general; a key figure there," Ye said.
He said the expulsions come as the party continues an internal power struggle, which it packages as maintaining "political discipline."
"This insistence on political discipline is really a way of issuing a warning to other factions within the party," he said.
No tolerance of differences
Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said the expulsion of Yang Dongliang shows that Xi's administration is less and less willing to tolerate political differences within the party itself.
"There are some people within the Communist Party and also within the military who have pretty active views, and hold some views that might be considered rebellious," Sun said. "Sometimes that comes out in their behavior."
Sun said the accusation of "participating in unofficial political activities" may be a reference to officials' participation in private conferences and symposia.
"As far as the party discipline is concerned, there should be a clear boundary between internal and external activities," Sun said.
"If you have dissenting opinions, you can talk about them within the party, but you had better not do so outside it," he said.
"Lower ranks are supposed to take their lead from the higher ranks, the higher ranks from the leadership and the individual from the organization."
Zhou Yongkang was handed a life sentence by a Tianjin court in June after being found guilty of corruption and disclosure of state secrets in a secret trial on May 22.
Zhou was the highest-ranking party member, and the first former member of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee to be targeted so far in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign, which has vowed to target graft among high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
Zhou, who once headed the powerful Politics and Law Commission in charge of the state security police and who was instrumental in developing a heavy-handed nationwide "stability maintenance" security regime, was accused of taking bribes of around 130 million yuan (U.S.$21.3 million), an estimate which many saw as a lenient compromise by the authorities.
Zhou's post at the head of the Politics and Law Commission was downgraded to report to the Politburo standing committee post following his retirement in November 2012.
However, the "stability maintenance" regime he spearheaded has continued to expand its reach, commanding a budget of some U.S.$33 billion in 2014, a figure which has since been kept secret.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.