China trial begins for ally of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - A former senior Chinese official and an ally of retired security boss Zhou Yongkang stood trial on Thursday on charges of bribery and abuse of power in central China, the latest in a string of top officials connected to Zhou caught in an anti-graft campaign.

The trial began at the Municipal Intermediate People's Court in Xianning City in the central province of Hubei, the court said on its official microblog account.

President Xi Jinping's two-year graft crackdown has taken down at least a dozen former associates and protégées of Zhou, the once-powerful domestic security chief and member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee and the most senior person to have been charged with corruption.

Li Chuncheng, former deputy party boss of southwestern Sichuan province, was charged last year with bribery and abuse of power.

For many years, he oversaw the development of Sichuan province's prosperous capital, Chengdu, until the party began investigating him for graft in late 2012.

Sichuan was Zhou's powerbase, where he served as party boss from 1999-2002. Li began working in Sichuan in 1998 and had worked there ever since, rising up through the ranks.

Zhou was charged with bribery, abuse of power and intentional disclosure of state secrets earlier this month. He will be tried in Tianjin, a city near Beijing, but a date has not been set.

Last week, Jiang Jiemin, the former head of CNPC, China's top energy group, and a close associate of Zhou, admitted his guilt and asked for leniency at his corruption trial.

Since taking power in 2013, Xi has launched a sweeping crackdown on corruption, warning corruption is a threat to the Communist Party's survival.

Scores of senior figures in the ruling Communist Party, the military and state-owned enterprises have been felled in the crackdown.