Jittery authorities in Anhui's provincial capital, Hefei, were on high alert yesterday for the trial of Gu Kailai, billed as the most politically sensitive case in China for decades.
From early in the morning, hundreds of police and plain-clothes officers sealed off the streets around the courtroom where Gu made her first public appearance in months and, according to state media, 'calmly' accepted the murder charge.
Dozens of police vehicles were stationed nearby and helicopters were seen hovering above the Hefei Intermediate People's Court.
Unfazed by the heavy security and the pouring rain swept in by Typhoon Haikui, more than 200 mainland and overseas journalists began to gather outside the court at 6am.
Although they had been told earlier that entry to the courtroom would be open only to a few selected state media outlets such as Xinhua and state television, many reporters apparently hoped to get a glimpse of the mysterious Gu, the wife of high-profile princeling politician Bo Xilai , who was toppled in the ensuing political crisis.
At about 6.40am, a van believed to be carrying Gu entered the court's underground car park.
Before 8am, two British diplomats invited to be present arrived at a side entrance and were led into the building through a police cordon.
In what appeared to be an attempt to draw reporters away from the scene, court officials announced at 10am, soon after the beginning of the trial, that a briefing would be held at 11am at another location.
Most of the rain-drenched reporters flocked to the Swan Lake Hotel, only to be told the briefing had been postponed for at least two hours. It did not start until 4pm.
Reporters were left expressing frustration over the local authorities' handling of the trial, which has been shrouded in secrecy.
A CNN reporter was reportedly roughed up by police when he tried to get into the courtroom.
The trial also attracted supporters of Bo and petitioners.
Police dragged at least four people, including two Bo supporters, into an unmarked car. They had been calling the trial a sham and singing patriotic songs, which were revived by Bo as part of his populist leadership style during his tenure as party boss in Chongqing.
'Don't believe it. This case was decided well in advance,' Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap, told foreign reporters outside the court building.
Plain-clothes police then shoved Hu and his friend into a car. His companion, also a middle-aged man, struggled, yelling: 'Why are you taking me? Why are you taking me?'
Not surprisingly, the mainland media, which had been banned from covering the scandal, were told to stick to the script issued by Xinhua, the state news agency.
Most online discussions of the trial on social networks were also deleted. As a measure of the sensitivity of the trial, searches for words including 'Hefei' and 'court' were banned on microblogging sites yesterday.