BEIJING (REUTERS) - The leader of China's scandal-plagued south-western province of Sichuan said on Thursday that a few "bad apple" corrupt officials should not negate the hard work of the vast majority of party members, despite spiralling graft allegations.
Sichuan was a powerbase for steely retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who sources say is at the centre of a corruption investigation reaching into the highest echelons of government, though Beijing has yet to formally confirm this.
Several senior officials who worked with Zhou when he was Sichuan's Communist Party boss from 1999-2002 or who remained in Sichuan and rose up through the ranks under Zhou's patronage have been felled by anti-graft investigators.
State media, without mentioning Zhou's name, have reported on a series of other scandals in Sichuan in the past few weeks, including a Sichuan mining magnate who ran a "mafia-style" gang who has been charged with crimes ranging from murder to gun-running.
Sichuan's current party boss, Mr Wang Dongming, sidestepped questions about Zhou on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China's parliament, but said the party's attitude to fighting corruption was clear, as shown by recent probes.
"During this process, there were at different levels party officials who have been punished by the party or the law, including those who had worked in Sichuan in different leadership roles," he told reporters.
The atttitude of the Sichuan party committee, he said, was "very clear-cut, holding high the flag of fighting corruption.
"Although there are these corrupt elements, rotten apples, they are only a tiny proportion of our entire team of party officials. They cannot represent the mainstream, and, of course, they cannot represent the mainstream of the party in Sichuan."
Party officials in Sichuan, he said, were dedicated to improving the lives of the province's people and were "a team that can be totally trusted".
Upon getting up to leave, Mr Wang laughed as a foreign reporter shouted a question about Zhou before being shuffled out by security.