China's party expels disgraced politician

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BEIJING -- Several hundred of the Chinese Communist Party's top leaders decided Sunday on a raft of measures that pave the way for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition scheduled to start this week.

Among its decisions, the party's Central Committee endorsed the expulsion of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai from the party and promoted two military leaders.

The decision to expel Mr. Bo signaled that top leaders had reached a consensus on this delicate issue. Mr. Bo had been a contender for one of the party's highest positions until his spectacular fall this year and still had support among some party members. Among the accusations against him are that he abused his power, took large bribes and hindered a police investigation into the death of a British businessman. Mr. Bo's wife was convicted of the Briton's murder in August. Mr. Bo, who has been incommunicado since his detention in March, is expected to stand trial in the coming months.

The committee also agreed to expel the former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, from the party. Mr. Liu has been accused of receiving bribes in excess of $100 million during the years he oversaw the expansion of the nation's high-speed rail system.

The party's 365-member Central Committee met for four days before the start of the 18th Party Congress on Thursday, when the current leaders of party, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, are to retire. Mr. Hu is to be replaced by Xi Jinping and Mr. Wen by Li Keqiang.

The Central Committee also voted to make two generals -- Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang -- vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which oversees China's military. Gen. Fan, formerly the commander of an artillery unit, and Gen. Xu, an air force officer, will serve under Mr. Hu, who also leads the military commission.

A crucial question is whether Mr. Hu will resign as chairman of the military commission and give the position to Mr. Xi, who is already a vice chairman, or stay on for two more years. Mr. Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, waited two years before making Mr. Hu commander in chief, but some analysts in Beijing say Mr. Hu is in a weaker position than Mr. Jiang and may not retain the post.

The Central Committee gave no indication of which members would make up the Standing Committee of the 24-member Politburo. The Standing Committee, the body that effectively governs China, has nine members but is expected to shrink to seven. If so, five people will be appointed to the body in addition to Mr. Xi and Mr. Li. Before his downfall, Mr. Bo, the former party chief of Chongqing, in southwest China, was viewed as a contender for the committee.

Unsurprisingly, the Central Committee praised the performance of its members, who also received a preview from Mr. Xi of the draft report that will be presented to the 18th Party Congress.

Mr. Xi's role at the meeting suggests that he will be heavily involved in determining the next congress's direction, but just how much is unclear.

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