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And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to spend the next few minutes in China, where Beijing is approaching its once-a-decade transfer of power at the top. One man expected to be named to a coveted leadership position has been sacked. And as Louisa Lim reports, that sudden fall of this flamboyant politician offers a glimpse into the vicious political struggle playing out behind the scenes.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: After weeks of fevered speculation, the end when it came was swift and succinct. A single sentence from Xinhua news agency ended the career of Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, who until last month seemed to be heading straight for China's top leadership. It offers one glimpse into the Machiavellian power struggles playing out amongst China's leadership; that's according to Willy Wo Lap Lam at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

WILLY WO-LAP LAM: What's happening to Bo Xilai is fairly obviously a classic case of political intrigue and backstabbing. So it is quite possible that the Bo Xilai affair is a recurrence of the mechanism of one faction using the anti-corruption card against the other.

PREMIER WEN JIABAO: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Just yesterday, Premier Wen Jiabao made a thinly-veiled attack on Bo Xilai, saying lessons should be learned. He was referring to the scandal surrounding Bo's former police chief, Wang Lijun, who last month sought refuge overnight in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. He's now in the custody of the Chinese authorities. The premier also implicitly criticized Bo's vision of China, known as the Chongqing Model, which involves mass mobilization and a revival of Maoist values.


LIM: One key element was singing red – or Communist – songs. Bo also advocated closing the wealth gap and a crackdown on the mafia. That led to 2,000 arrests and 13 executions, with scant regard for due process or the word of law. Yang Fan wrote a book on the Chongqing model. He says Bo's mistakes include being too Maoist.

YANG FAN: (Through translator) He has no future. He committed very serious leftist mistakes. Even the leftists in Beijing will all be criticized and will need to reflect. His mistakes caused insecurity to society, especially senior politicians and rich people in coastal areas. Many moved their money overseas, and even people in Beijing, like me, felt insecure.

BO XILAI: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Bo Xilai made his last closely watched appearance at the legislature six days ago. He was ever the showman. He made what looks now like a pre-emptive attempt to address rumors of corruption swirling around his family, in particular his son, Bo Guagua, who studied at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

XILAI: (Through translator) A few people are smearing Chongqing, smearing myself, smearing my family and even saying my son who studied abroad drove a red Ferrari. It's a pack of lies. I feel really furious. It's a pack of lies.

LIM: How to deal with Bo presents a big dilemma. Cheng Li from the Brookings Institution believes Bo's popularity means pursuing corruption charges could be seen as unfair, given how widespread corruption is. And Bo's pedigree as a princeling – the son of a Communist hero – complicates matters further. Here's Cheng Li.

CHENG LI: If you do not handle appropriately, there will be very serious political crisis. In my view it's a wake-up call to really pursue political reforms before being too late. But it's very, very difficult. Some people in the leadership may not agree with that assessment.

LIM: Much as they want to present a united front, this sacking shows how divided China's top leaders are. Bo's downfall could be a setback for his faction, known as The Princelings. But his replacement, Zhang Dejiang, is also a Princeling. The final leadership lineup won't be clear for many months. But the turbulent transition is underway, and it has already claimed its first high-level victim.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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