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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

In Southwest China, the mob is on trial. A millionaire businessman who was also a local legislator was in court today. He stands accused of heading a criminal syndicate. The case is part of one of the biggest prosecutions of organized crime in China in the past half century. Six people have already been sentenced to death and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn has this report from the city of Chongqing.

(Soundbite of crowd)

ANTHONY KUHN: Outside the courthouse not far from the banks of the Yangtze River, crowds gathered in the fog and drizzle to talk about Li Qiang, the alleged crime boss on trial. Zhou Mengli used to sell tickets on a bus. She says Li was known as a capable entrepreneur when he opened his first transportation company in the mid 1990s.

Ms. ZHOU MENGLI: (Through Translator) My company's boss knew Li and said he had a bright future. In those days, to get into town from the eastern suburbs, you had to switch buses several times and it was inconvenient. Li improved things by setting up direct routes.

KUHN: Li eventually gained control of 100 of Chongqing's bus routes. He built political connections, serving as a government adviser, legislator and head of a local chamber of commerce.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: On local TV today, Li was shown in court with 30 co-defendants. He was charged with nine offenses, including running a criminal enterprise, bribing officials and organizing a strike by Chongqing taxi drivers last November.

(Soundbite of crowd)

KUHN: Outside the courthouse, a crowd of protesters gathered, demonstrating against the former head of the municipal justice bureau, Wen Qiang. Wen was arrested in March and accused of protecting mob-run loan sharking, extortion and gambling operations.

One of the protesters, Huang Shangfang, said she complained to Wen several years ago about the illegal imprisonment of her brother, but Wen ignored her.

Ms. HUANG SHANGFANG: (Through Translator) I was furious, and I said to the police, I think Wen is a mafia boss because he has suppressed my case. But now we know he really was a mafia boss.

KUHN: On protester, Huang Guobi, displays gory pictures of her dead husband. She claims he was hacked to death by thugs protected by Wen Qiang. She says it started with a land dispute and ended one evening four years ago with seven men charging into her home.

Ms. HUANG GUOBI: (Through Translator) My husband said to the intruders, it's late, you can bring up the dispute with local officials tomorrow morning. The attackers came in swinging long knives and iron bars. My husband died before he realized what was happening.

KUHN: Many Chinese credit Chongqing's Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai for launching the anti-mafia drive. Bo is considered a likely candidate to join the party's ruling inner circle in Beijing in 2012. But locals outside the courthouse voiced concerns that the prosecution of crime bosses is selective, political and marred by procedural flaws. One young man, surnamed Ma, claims his father was wrongly swept up in the anti-crime drive in July, but the family has received no notice from police.

Mr. MA: (Through Translator) The anti-crime drive is correct and wins public trust, but we must pay more attention to defendants' rights. From what I understand, many aspects of the case have not been handled in accordance with China's laws.

KUHN: Noted defense lawyer Zhou Litai is representing an alleged mobster in a separate trial. He complains that the court barred him from reviewing the evidence against his client.

Mr. ZHOU LITAI (Defense Attorney): (Through Translator) We were not shown the materials for this case. It's a fact. And it's not just me. The same thing has happened to other defense lawyers. The authorities have offered no explanation for this.

KUHN: Still, Zhou says he's confident that the court will deliver a just verdict in his client's case.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Chongqing, China.

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