BEIJING (AP) -- China's ruling Communist Party suspended a high-profile politician from his remaining leadership positions Tuesday and named his wife as a suspect in the murder of a British businessman.
Announcements carried by state media said Bo Xilai has been suspended from the party's 25-member Politburo and the larger Central Committee on suspicion of involvement in "serious discipline violations."
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, is being investigated for intentional homicide of a British citizen, Neil Heywood, who died in November in Chongqing, the Xinhua News Agency said. Gu and an orderly at Bo's home have been turned over to judicial authorities, it said.
A flamboyant and telegenic politician with a populist flair, Bo is the most senior Chinese leader to be suspended from the Politburo in six years. The announcements provide details on what has been a lurid, divisive and embarrassing scandal for the leadership, bringing political infighting out of the usually closed confines of elite party politics and into public view.
"I believe his career is effectively over," said Dali Yang, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. "While this is a crisis, the party is emphasizing how Bo is not above the law."
While the brief reports about Bo did not elaborate on what rules he is suspected of violating, the charge is broad enough to cover everything from corruption to the mishandling of internal party affairs.
Bo was the party chief of Chongqing, a sprawling inland city, and until recently considered a contender for the highest ranks of party power when a younger generation of leaders is due to be installed later this year.
Bo's career began publicly unraveling in February after a once trusted aide left Chongqing and fled temporarily to the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu, apparently in a failed bid for asylum. A month later, Bo was dismissed from his Chongqing post without explanation.
The Xinhua report confirmed that while in the U.S. Consulate, the aide, Wang Lijun, alleged that the British citizen, Neil Heywood, had been murdered in November. The allegations, Xinhua said, prompted Chinese authorities to reinvestigate the death.
The Xinhua account said that Gu and her and Bo's son had been on good terms with Heywood but that they had a conflict over unspecified "economic interests" that worsened. The investigators found that Heywood's death was likely a homicide and that Gu and the family orderly Zhang Xiaojun are suspects, Xinhua said.
Heywood's death in November was initially blamed on excessive drinking, something friends of his have said he was not known to do. While the British government had not initially sought an investigation, it welcomed Tuesday announcement of a new probe.
"We now look forward to seeing those investigations take place and hearing the outcome of those investigations," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "I don't want to prejudice their conduct in any way."
While Bo officially is suspended and still a party member, the same tactic was used in 2006 against Shanghai's party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison for bribery, abuse of power and other acts of corruption.
The Xinhua report about Heywood's death referred to Bo as "comrade," a term reserved for party members. But it identified his wife as "Bogu Kailai," an unexplained combining of their last names.
Bo had been one of the usually staid leadership's most high-flying politicians. While in Chongqing, Bo championed a strong state role in the economy and more welfare for lower income groups. His signature campaigns -- a crackdown on organized crime and a revival of Mao Zedong-era communist songs and stories -- gained him a national following.
Bo's excesses, however, also earned him critics. His gang busting ran roughshod over civil liberties, with legal scholars and some businessmen victims accusing authorities of torture and other tactics to steer deals toward people in Bo's favor. Meanwhile the Mao culture campaign dredged up memories of the chaotic, radical Cultural Revolution in which many Chinese were persecuted for being insufficiently loyal.
Bo retains a devoted following, particularly among people who identify themselves as Maoist or new left. Worried about these often vocal supporters and critics of government policy, authorities last week shut down a flagship leftist website "Utopia" for a month.
His removal, however, also raises questions about what had looked like a smooth transition to new leaders when President Hu Jintao and most other members of the current Politburo Standing Committee begin stepping down later this year.
"A political succession that seemed completely predictable has been upended," said June Teufel Dreyer, a China politics expert at University of Miami. "We may be in for more surprises."
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