Fallen Chinese high-flyer Bo goes on trial

Disgraced political star Bo Xilai will appear in the dock Thursday in China's highest-profile prosecution for decades as a gripping murder and corruption saga reaches a climax.

Once a high-flyer in the Communist Party, Bo headed the southwestern megacity of Chongqing and belonged to the 25-member Politburo -- with a shot at joining its Standing Committee, China's highest-ruling body, last November.

But his dramatic downfall began in November 2011 when a British businessman was found dead in a hilltop hotel room in a scandal that saw Bo's police chief flee to a US consulate and his wife, Gu Kailai, convicted of murder.

Gu was last year given a suspended death sentence -- normally commuted to life imprisonment -- for the killing of Neil Heywood and police chief Wang Lijun got 15 years in jail for his role in its cover-up.

Bo's own long-awaited trial -- for corruption, bribery and abuse of power -- is expected to proceed swiftly, with a guilty verdict all but certain and the sentence believed to have been decided beforehand.

The ruling Communist Party is touting the trial as proof of its intent to crack down on corruption but the proceedings remain sensitive and many residents of Jinan, the eastern city where the trial is being held far from Bo's power bases, are reluctant to speak about it.

Such matters did not affect ordinary people, said one man as he walked away towards a shopping plaza.

But a 64-year-old woman surnamed Liu said official corruption was rampant and sounded emotional as she described how local-level problems had hurt her family.

Putting away Bo would not make a dent, she said. "Bad guys like Bo Xilai -- there are too many like him."

A 24-year-old man working in property saw the Bo case as political, asking: "Didn't he try to take (President) Xi Jinping's place and get brought down?"

The charismatic politician's leftist streak and overt ambition divided the leadership of the ruling Communist Party and factions within China's political elite reportedly struggled to maintain unity over how to handle the affair.

Putting an end to the scandal this month could clear the slate ahead of a key plenum of the Communist Party expected in October.

Enjoying the privileged status of "princeling" as son of a renowned revolutionary leader, Bo operated with a glamour and openness uncommon among China's typically reserved politicians.

He ascended from mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian in the 1990s to commerce minister in the following decade.

But the controversy surrounding him grew as well -- after arriving in Chongqing in 2007 he aggressively cracked down on alleged criminals and revived leftist activities such as the singing of "red" songs.

Authorities say the trial of such a high-ranking figure is proof they are fulfilling pledges to fight official corruption.

But details about the scandal, which erupted in the build-up to a once-in-a-decade leadership handover that saw Xi Jinping elevated as Communist chief, have also exposed the high-flying lifestyles and murky dealings of the country's political elite.

Bo's trial will be his first public appearance since March 2012, weeks after the scandal broke.