China sets date for disgraced politician Bo Xilai's trial

Former party chief's trial will test new president's anti-corruption credentials

The trial of the disgraced senior Chinese politician Bo Xilai will start on Thursday when he will face charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power, according to the Xinhua state news agency.

The former Communist Party secretary of the major city of Chongqing was dismissed last year in a scandal that saw his wife, Gu Kailai, convicted of killing British businessman Neil Heywood. 

The upcoming trial is the country’s most divisive since the 1976 downfall of Mao Zedong’s widow, Jiang Qing, and the Gang of Four at the end of the Cultural Revolution. Bo, 64, is still a popular figure in the country, especially among conservatives.

Bo's trial will open at the Intermediate People's Court in Jinan, capital of the coastal province of Shandong, at on Thursday. The Xinhua agency gave no further details.

The trial is an early test of newly installed President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption. It is almost certain Bo will be convicted as China's prosecutors and judges are controlled by the ruling Communist Party. The outcome of the proceedings will show how Xi has been able to assert control on the party, which he leads.

Xi has vowed to fight both "tigers" and "flies" – meaning people at every level of the party - as he combats a level corruption that is so pervasive that he has warned it threatens the party's very survival.

Bo, a former commerce minister and the son of a late vice president, used his post as party boss of Chongqing to turn the municipality into a showcase for his mix of populist policies and bold spending plans that won support from leftists searching for a charismatic leader.

Neil Heywood's family told the Wall Street Journal last week that they have appealed for compensation from his convicted killer after efforts from Heywood's Chinese widow to get a financial settlement had failed.