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  • Updated: 3:06pm

Bo Xilai

Chinese Communist "princeling" Bo Xilai, expected by many to take a key leadership position in the leadership transition of 2012, was expelled from the Communist Party in September after a career that saw him as Mayor of Dalian City, Minister of Commerce and Party Chief of the Chongqing municipality. His wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in August 2012 for murdering British business partner Neil Heywood. 

World's press descend on intentionally quiet Hefei

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:14pm
 

The world's media has descended upon Hefei , a bland, industrial city in the eastern province of Anhui , as the nation's most sensational criminal case in decades opens in the city today.

More than 100 domestic and overseas journalists from major news organisations have arrived in the provincial capital for the trial of Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai who has been charged with murdering Briton Neil Heywood.

The Hefei Intermediate People's Court, where the trial will take place, has been quietly guarded by dozens of plain-clothes police, another indication of the sensitivity of the case. Some could be seen sitting in the shade of trees outside the multi-storey courthouse, while others stayed inside vehicles parked outside the building, videotaping anyone that appeared suspicious.

People trying to enter the courthouse were subjected to full-body checks and had to register their personal details.

Local police visited most of the city's hotels to check guests' identities, although no reason for the inspection was given.

The high-profile trial, which is widely considered as a quick solution to China's worst political crisis in recent years, appears to be open only to selected state media such as Xinhua and CCTV. A courthouse duty officer confirmed that only those with special permits would be allowed inside.

However, as a gesture of transparency, two British diplomats have been granted rare permission to attend the hearing.

Also, an official with the provincial publicity department said it had set up a media team and assigned a spokesman to deal with foreign reporters covering the case.

'The team will brief reporters outside the courthouse once the hearing is finished today,' he said.

A brief report by Xinhua late last month accused Gu, along with Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo family, of fatally poisoning Heywood, who was once a close family friend. Gu was said to fear that the Briton posed a threat to the safety of her son, Bo Guagua .

The younger Bo told CNN on Tuesday that he had submitted a witness statement to his mother's defence team.

'As I was cited as a motivating factor for the crimes my mother is accused of, I have submitted my witness statement. I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review it,' CNN quoted an e-mail by Bo Guagua as saying. 'I have faith that facts will speak for themselves.'

The 24-year-old, who recently finished a postgraduate degree at Harvard University, did not elaborate on the content of his witness statement.

Two independent sources told the South China Morning Post the son was secretly brought back to Beijing at one point to help with the investigation of the case.

Gu will be defended by two government-appointed lawyers, Jiang Min, the chairman of Anhui's lawyers association, and Zhou Yuhao, from the lawyers' association of the nearby city of Wuhu .

Both lawyers are based in Anhui province, far from Bo's sphere of influence in Chongqing and politically sensitive Beijing.

Wang Shengjun , president of the Supreme People's Court, worked for more than two decades in Anhui's judicial system and his proteges now hold key judicial posts.

Another reason Anhui was chosen for the trial was because local officials are traditionally conservative and media tend to be meek and obedient, said a local reporter who declined to be named.

'The central leadership won't have to worry about things getting out of control,' he said.

While the trial has captured headlines around the world, is has barely caused a ripple among local people.

'I've no idea who Gu [Kailai] is,' said Cheng Hai, a 23-year-old migrant worker in the city. 'But I've heard of Bo Xilai, who is a kind of official in Chongqing.'

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