Chinese netizens cynical about Bo Xilai's verdict

JINAN, China (AFP) - Sunday's verdict on former leading politician Bo Xilai was met with cynical responses on China's social media.

A Chinese court sentenced Bo to life in prison after a sensational corruption trial that exposed intrigue and lavish lifestyles in the higher levels of the ruling party.

Bo, a member of the Communist Party's 25-strong elite politburo before his dramatic downfall, was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo's trial "perhaps is not the victory of anti-corruption", a user wrote in English on Sina Weibo, calling it "further evidence" of rampant corruption, including in the judicial system.

"Many questions arise: If he's corrupted, how many corrupted officers are there in China?"

Though edited transcripts from the trial were posted online, the government has tightly controlled information about Bo's case.

A photo posted by the Jinan court in Shandong province on Sunday showed a handcuffed Bo, 64, dressed in an open-collar white shirt, black trousers and black athletic shoes, in the court surrounded by four uniformed police officers.

State TV later showed footage of Bo listening to the proceedings as two officers held him in place.

At a press conference after the verdict, court spokesman Liu Yanjie said Bo did not indicate in court whether he would appeal. His lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Joseph Cheng, a China politics expert at City University of Hong Kong, said Bo's active defence helped earn him a harsh sentence.

"A defiant attitude and refusing to admit one's guilt is considered bad behaviour and attracts a heavier sentence," Mr Cheng told AFP.

"Bo Xilai would certainly like to retain a chance of a political comeback, and a heavier sentence from the state certainly indicates a rejection of any chance of giving him a political comeback."

"This deprivation of political rights for life is an implicit answer to that kind of demand."

Bo poured billions into public works and social housing programmes while he was party chief of Chongqing, where he launched a high-profile anti-crime campaign that won him admirers across China.

Despite his popularity, reports of forced confessions and torture during the crime crackdown horrified Chinese liberals, while some top party leaders saw his ambition as challenging the party's cherished unity.

The party's new leadership under President Xi Jinping is trying to show it is combatting corruption.

But locals in Jinan in advance of the verdict on Sunday expressed a widely held belief that trials of top officials are the outcome of political infighting, rather than purely legal proceedings.

"Bo is the kind of leader ordinary Chinese respect, he did a good job in Chongqing," said Lu Mingcai, a 63-year-old retired chauffeur.

"His mistake is a political one. It's got nothing to do with whether he was corrupt or not," Mr Lu said, adding: "Bo will go to prison for sure."

Liu Qing, a middle-aged market stall owner said: "(Bo) has been sacrificed in a political struggle. I don't know if he was corrupt. What government official isn't corrupt these days?"