Bo Xilai trial: China's media calls Bo a liar as trial enters second day

JINAN (REUTERS) - China's state media called ousted politician Bo Xilai arrogant and a liar for his robust defence at his landmark trial, the country's highest profile court case since the Gang of Four was dethroned in the 1970s and put in the dock.

Bo's trial in the eastern city of Jinan entered the second day on Friday. On Thursday, Bo, the former Communist Party chief of the Chongqing region, said he was framed in bribery charges against him and had admitted to them under psychological pressure during interrogation.

He called one witness who provided evidence against him a "mad dog" and said written testimony from his wife Gu Kailai was "laughable".

Bo's attitude towards witnesses is "swollen with arrogance", said the Guangming Daily, a newspaper run by the Communist Party that also called him "scheming, domineering and duplicitous".

"Previously, Bo Xilai would use lies to carve out his own greedy dreams, and today in court, he still denies the guilt that he has pleaded," the newspaper said. "He's still carrying his lies."

The comments are likely a reflection of the government's insecurities about Bo's popularity. His downfall has pitted supporters of his Maoist-themed egalitarian social programmes against the capitalist-leaning economic road taken by the leadership in Beijing, exposing divisions within the ruling party as well as Chinese society.

The 64-year-old has been charged with illegally taking almost 27 million yuan (S$5.6 million), corruption and abuse of power and will almost certainly be found guilty.

Foreign journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, but the Jinan Intermediate Court provided transcripts of the proceedings via a microblog. It was not clear how much they were edited.

Nevertheless, Bo's denial of the charges and strong language as he made his first public appearance since being ousted early last year were devoured by Chinese Internet users - the court blog registered as many as 390,000 followers on Thursday.

Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, in a commentary on its website, slammed Bo's feisty defence as being little more than "futile quibbling".

"The evidence in irrefutable," the newspaper wrote. "Of course Bo Xilai has the right to defend himself...but if he lacks sincerity, then his excuses will be ridiculed."

Observers said Bo could have agreed to choreographed proceedings that would show authorities in an impartial light in exchange for a pre-arranged sentence.

He could face the death sentence, though a suspended death sentence is more likely, which effectively means life imprisonment, or a 20-year term.

On Friday, Bo's trial is expected to produce more details of the charges of embezzlement and abuse of power against him.

The charge of abuse of power against Bo relates to the murder case involving his wife Gu. Bo was a rising star in China's leadership circles when his career was stopped short last year by the scandal involving Gu, who was convicted of the November 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, a business partner and family friend.

Bo's former police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, has also been jailed for trying to cover up the case. Bo was furious with Wang when he was told that his wife was a murder suspect, and sacked him despite not having party authority to do so, sources with knowledge of the case have said.

Neither did he report the matter to his bosses in Beijing, all of which led to the abuse of power charge, they said.

The court said on its microblog feed that five of Bo's family members attended the hearing on Thursday. Chinese media identified them as Li Wangzhi, the elder son of Bo, Bo's sister, Bo Xiaoying; his brothers, Xiyong and Xining, and Gu's sister, Gu Wangjiang.

Mr Li, Bo's son from his first marriage, thanked authorities for allowing his father "to speak his true mind" at his trial and said Bo has stood by his ideas despite an investigation that lasted 500 days, the New York Times said.

In a statement posted on its website, Mr Li said he has "been subjected to pain and sadness" for Bo, but is proud of his father's strength.

Mr Li saw his father for the first time in several years on Thursday, according to the New York Times.

"I thank the party central authorities and the court for giving the defendant greater rights to a defense and freedom than he had expected, allowing my father to speak his true mind," Mr Li said. "True gold does not fear fire."

On Tuesday, Bo's son with Gu, Bo Guagua, urged authorities to grant his father the opportunity to defend himself ahead of his trial. Guagua, who is in the United States pursuing a law degree at Columbia University, said he has been denied contact with his parents for the past 18 months.