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China’s former Ministry of Public Security Zhou Yongkang has been jailed for life after being found guilty of bribery, abuse of power and “intentionally disclosing national secrets”, Xinhua news agency reports.

Zhou Yongkang – the most senior politician to face corruption charges under Communist rule.

Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou Yongkang was one of China’s most powerful men.

Zhou Yongkang was put under investigation one year later as part of President Xi Jinping’s major anti-corruption campaign.

State TV showed a clip of Zhou Yongkang, 72, pleading guilty at a closed-door trial in the northern city of Tianjin. When responding to the judge, he said he would not launch an appeal.

Zhou Yongkang said: “I’ve realized the harm I’ve caused to the party and the people. I plead guilty and I regret my crimes.”

He was tried behind closed doors on May 22 because the case involved state secrets, Xinhua agency reports. There was no public announcement until the conviction was reported on June 11.Zhou Yongkang sentenced to life in prison

In a breakdown of the ruling, Xinhua reports that Zhou Yongkang received a life sentence for accepting bribes worth 130 million yuan ($21.3 million), seven years for abuse of power and four years for “deliberately releasing state secrets”.

All political rights have been stripped and his property confiscated, the news agency added.

Zhou Yongkang was charged in April, nine months after a formal investigation was announced.

He has since been expelled from the Communist Party.

Zhou Yongkang was once head of the Ministry of Public Security, as well as a member of China’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

It is the first time such a senior Chinese figure has been convicted of corruption since the Communist Party came to power in 1949.

President Xi Jinping vowed to end endemic corruption when he came to power in 2012.


Since then, a number of Zhou Yongkang’s former associates from his time working in the oil industry and as Communist Party chief in Sichuan province have been investigated or prosecuted as part of Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown.

The Xinhua report did not refer to Bo Xilai, a former protégé of Zhou Yongkang’s and former Chongqing Communist Party chief, who is currently in prison on charges linked to his wife’s murder of a British businessman.

The online version of the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, appears to have fallen for a Kim Jong-un spoof by the US satirical website, The Onion.

The People’s Daily ran a 55-page photo spread of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after he was declared The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.

He is shown riding horses, holding children and greeting his troops.

The spread is accompanied by tongue-in-cheek quotes from The Onion about the “Pyongyang-born heart-throb”.

“With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-born heart-throb is every woman’s dream come true,” the People’s Daily quoted The Onion as saying.

“Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle and, of course, that famous smile.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” said The Onion editor Will Tracy, responding to the People’s Daily feature.

“I mean, this kind of thing has happened in different forms before, so it never totally takes us by surprise, although it’s a total delight whenever it does happen.”

The People's Daily ran a 55-page photo spread of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after he was declared The Onion's Sexiest Man Alive for 2012

The People’s Daily ran a 55-page photo spread of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after he was declared The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012

The Onion, which ran its Sexiest Man Alive piece earlier in the month, had an update to its article on Tuesday.

“For more coverage, please visit our friends at the People’s Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc. Exemplary reportage, comrades,” it added.

By around midday on Wednesday the People’s Daily spread appeared to have been removed, with the link to the English version returning an error message.

The Onion said previous winners of its Sexiest Man Alive prize included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and US financial swindler Bernard Madoff, who is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence.

Two months ago, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency was forced to apologize after being taken in by a spoof news item from The Onion which declared rural Americans preferred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to US President Barack Obama.

It quoted one fictional West Virginian resident as saying he would rather go to a baseball game with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because “he takes national defense seriously”.

People’s Daily

The Onion

China is set to unveil the new leaders who will rule for the next decade.

Early on Thursday, selected Communist Party delegates will endorse the new Politburo Standing Committee – the highest decision-making body.

The committee line-up will then be made public at 11:00, when leaders walk out in order of seniority.

Vice-President Xi Jinping is set to succeed outgoing leader Hu Jintao as party chief. Vice-Premier Li Keqiang is also on course for a top-level post.

It is not yet clear who will fill the other spaces on the committee or indeed how many spaces there will be.

Recent months have seen speculation that the committee could be reduced from nine to seven members.

Front-runners include Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, party organization chief Li Yuanchao, Tianjin party boss Zhang Gaoli and Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang.

Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, Shanghai party boss Yu Zhengsheng and the only female politburo member, Liu Yandong, are also thought to be in contention.

Although the Central Committee delegates – elected before the week-long party congress closed on Wednesday – will vote for the new Standing Committee, in reality the selection will have been made ahead of time.

The move marks a generational shift in the party’s top ranks – the new leaders will be mostly in their late 50s.

They will gradually take over in the next few months, with Hu Jintao’s presidency formally coming to an end at the annual parliament session in March 2013.

The Communist Party will also announce on Thursday whether Hu Jintao will retain control of the Central Military Commission or pass it on to Xi Jinping. Hu Jintao’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, held on to the post for two years after he stood down from the party leadership.

Vice-President Xi Jinping is set to succeed outgoing leader Hu Jintao as Chinese Communist Party chief

Vice-President Xi Jinping is set to succeed outgoing leader Hu Jintao as Chinese Communist Party chief

Hu Jintao has been the Communist Party chief since he led the Standing Committee line-up out on stage in November 2002.

Under his administration China has seen a decade of extraordinary growth, overtaking Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.

But the development has been uneven, leading to a widening wealth gap, environmental challenges and rumbling social discontent over inequality and corruption.

On Wednesday, a party congress resolution hailed achievements under Hu Jintao, saying China had seized “the important period of strategic opportunities” for development.

Centralized party leadership was “the source of its strength and a fundamental guarantee for China’s economic and social development”, it emphasized.

Xi Jinping, a former Shanghai party chief, was appointed to the politburo in 2007.

A “princeling” – a relative of one of China’s revolutionary elders – he has spent almost four decades in the Communist Party, serving in top posts in both Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, as well as Shanghai.

He is said to be a protégé of Jiang Zemin, while Li Keqiang is said to have been Hu Jintao’s preferred successor.

Analysts say there has been division at the very top of the leadership in the lead-up to the party congress, with two rival factions jostling for position and influence.

The transition process has also been complicated by the scandal that engulfed Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai – a powerful high-flier once seen as a strong contender for the top leadership. His wife has been jailed for murdering a British businessman and he looks set to face trial on a raft of corruption-related charges.

That notwithstanding, the power transition process has been orderly, for only the second time in 60 years of Communist Party rule.

Forced evictions in China have risen significantly in recent years as local officials sell off land to property developers, Amnesty International says.

Many cases involve violence and harassment, in what the group called “a gross violation of human rights”.

Pressure on local officials to meet economic goals and vested interests were behind the coercion, it said.

These evictions are a rumbling cause of social discontent and have led to protests across the country.

All land in China is effectively controlled by the state, and laws allow local governments to claim land for urban development projects.

Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s senior director of research in Hong Kong, said that seizing and selling off land was how local authorities were paying back funds borrowed to finance stimulus packages during the economic downturn.

“The Chinese Communist Party promotes officials who deliver growth seemingly at any cost, and land development for roads, factories, residential complexes and so on is seen as the most direct path to visible results,” she said.

Amnesty said the system was open to abuse and evictees often received little notice, no consultation and only a fraction of the value of their home in compensation.

Such cases have led to violent clashes between residents and police or private security guards on several occasions, the report said.

Amnesty interviewed lawyers, housing rights activists and academics, both in China and abroad, for its 85-page report entitled Standing Their Ground.

It looked at 40 cases of forced eviction from January 2009 to January 2012, nine of which it said culminated in deaths of people who opposed their evictions.

“The forced eviction of people from their homes and farmland without appropriate legal protection and safeguards has become a routine occurrence in China, and represents a gross violation of human rights obligations on an enormous scale,” Amnesty said.

Many cases are “sudden and violent, sometimes resulting in death”, harassment and in one instance, someone being buried alive.

Nicola Duckworth said self-immolations caused by evictions were also on the rise.

“We documented 41 reports of self-immolations from 2009 to the end of 2012,” she said.

Amnesty cited the example of Wukan village in Guangdong province in 2011, where residents demonstrated on the streets after a village negotiator protesting against local officials over a land grab died in police custody.

As a result of protests, two local officials were removed from their posts and others punished in 2012. The villagers also won the right to fresh local elections as part of the deal.

But “optimism might be premature” on the Wukan case, Amnesty said.

“To this day, there has been no independent investigation into [village negotiator] Xue Jinbo’s death. The villagers still have not got any of their land back. And there are now reports that authorities have been harassing and spying on activists in Wukan.”

The group called on China to put an immediate stop to all forced evictions and ensure safeguards were put in place in line with international law.

It also urged China to implement new regulations it adopted in 2011 providing for proper land compensation and outlawing the use of violence in these cases.

China does have laws in place to protect farmers and local residents, but these are often ignored at local level. Leaders in Beijing have acknowledged the problems and pledged to improve the situation.

Premier Wen Jiabao, in his report to the National People’s Congress in March, said that problems related to land expropriation and housing demolition “are still very serious and the people are still very concerned about them”.

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Bo Guagua, son of sacked Chinese politician Bo Xilai, says the “facts will speak for themselves” when his mother, Gu Kailai, goes on trial for murder.

Bo Guagua said in an e-mail to US broadcaster CNN that he had given a witness statement to Gu Kailai’s defence team.

Gu Kailai will be tried by a court in Hefei on Thursday for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

The case has become one of China’s biggest political scandals in decades.

Gu Kailai, a well-known lawyer, and her aide Zhang Xiaojun are accused of killing Neil Heywood in November 2011 in the city of Chongqing, where Bo Xilai was Communist Party chief.

Bo Guagua, son of sacked Chinese politician Bo Xilai, says the "facts will speak for themselves" when his mother, Gu Kailai, goes on trial for murder

Bo Guagua, son of sacked Chinese politician Bo Xilai, says the "facts will speak for themselves" when his mother, Gu Kailai, goes on trial for murder

State media said Gu Kailai and her son fell out with Neil Heywood over “economic interests” and that she was worried about “Neil Heywood’s threat to her son’s personal security”.

“As I was cited as a motivating factor for the crimes accused of my mother, I have already submitted my witness statement,” Bo Guagua told CNN.

“I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review them,” the 24-year-old said.

Bo Guagua, who is believed to be in the US after graduating from Harvard University, did not specify what he wrote in his statement, CNN reports.

State media has called the case against Gu Kailai and her aide “irrefutable and substantial”. She has not been seen in public since April, when the investigation was announced.

British diplomats will be allowed to witness the trial but journalists will not be attending. Gu Kailai is being represented by state-appointed lawyers.

The case comes as China prepares to install a new generation of top leaders at a party congress due later this year, in its 10-yearly leadership transition.

Bo Xilai, who has been sacked from his official positions, had been seen as a strong contender for promotion. He has not been seen in public since April.

 

Veterans of Chinese Communist Party have written to President Hu Jintao to ask him to sack leading politician Zhou Yongkang.

Zhou Yongkang is currently in charge of China’s security apparatus.

In an open letter to President Hu Jintao, the party’s general secretary, the veterans suggest Zhou Yonkkang is part of a movement to revive the China of Mao Zedong.

Speculation has been growing about the future of Zhou Yongkang since the downfall of another top politician, Bo Xilai.

It is not often that party members make such a daring plea to their boss.

Zhou Yongkang is currently in charge of China's security apparatus

Zhou Yongkang is currently in charge of China's security apparatus

The letter urges the president to sack Zhou Yongkang from his post as head of China’s police force, its courts and its spy network.

He is also a member of the standing committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the country’s highest decision-making body.

The letter’s authors, who all know each other, also want him out of that job too.

Some of the veteran party members who wrote the note joined the Chinese communists before they took power in 1949.

They hold no senior positions – and do not seem to be particularly influential.

But one of the authors, Yu Yongqing, said they had received hundreds of calls of support, and some threatening ones.

Yu Yongging, who held a senior position in the party in the city of Zhaotong in Yunnan province, said Zhou Yongkang had to go because of his support for Bo Xilai.

Bo Xilai was recently sacked from his position in the party’s politburo and as party secretary of the city of Chongqing, where he led a campaign that sought to revive interest in the Mao Zedong era.

“Mr. Bo confessed that he has received support from Zhou Yongkang. Mr. Zhou also helped him to make contact with various central party departments,” said Yu Yongging.

The letter seems to warn about the dangers of reviving an interest in Chairman Mao and his policies.

It stresses the danger China faces from such things as corruption and the inequality of wealth without political reform.

For weeks there has been speculation about the future of Zhou Yongkang.

There has been no official comment, but this letter shows there is some concern about Zhou Yongkang within the party.

The letter also calls for the sacking of Liu Yunshan, the head of the party’s propaganda department.

He has been tipped for promotion later this year when the party holds a once-in-a-decade reshuffle of its top leaders.