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China censors Bo Xilai debate, but Chinese work around it

In a sign of how sensitive the issue is for the ruling Communist Party, censors blocked online searches for the name of Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party boss who fell from grace this year amid scandal.

By Sui-Lee Wee and Michael MartinaReuters / April 12, 2012

In this March 13 file photo, Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai attends the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, China.

Ng Han Guan/AP/File

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Beijing

Chinese on Wednesday streamed onto the Internet in forbidden debate over China's biggest political upheaval since the 1980s after a top official was flung from the inner circle of power and his wife detained over the murder of a British businessman.

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In a sign of how intensely sensitive the issue is for the ruling Communist Party, censors continued to block online searches for the name of Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party boss cast out of the party's Central Committee, according to state media reports late on Tuesday.

Even the most inane references were blocked on the wildly popular Twitter-like Weibo microblogging site - including "Chongqing," the southwestern metropolis Boran and where he built up his credentials as a leader who wanted fairer distribution of wealth and cracked down on crime.

But clever word play allowed many to skirt the restrictions, reimposed after being very briefly relaxed in mid-March when Bo was sacked as Chongqing party chief.

By Wednesday morning, there were more than 230,000 postings on "big news," and "Wude," a reference to the Chinese name of murdered Briton Neil Heywood, had racked up some 100,000 postings.

The official Xinhua news agency said late on Tuesday that Bo's lawyer wife Gu Kailai and their son had been on good terms with Heywood but that they had fallen out over "economic interests".

"Today's biggest news - people who don't lack money can murder someone because of money. Who's going to believe that?" wrote K_ankan.

"Can it be as simple as economic disputes?" added Dulixuezhe. "Behind the case there must be a mountain of secrets."

Another likened modern day elite Chinese politics to the power games of the former emperors in their palaces who were regarded as divine and ruled with the mandate of heaven.

"A huge twist at the palace theatre. It really is true that man's schemes are inferior to those made by heaven," wrote Two Fatties CC.

Others expressed sympathy for Heywood, whose name had not previously appeared much in Chinese media.

"Mr. Heywood, you came to China from such a long way away and you have sacrificed yourself so that the Chinese people may have rule of law," wrote Star Runner.

However, Chinese state media mostly stuck to repeating the Xinhua pronouncements on the case.

One Shanghai-based reporter for a state media outlet, who asked not to be identified, said they had been told to leave the case well alone.

"This is a very sensitive matter. We have been told not to deeply dig into this matter. For example, a circular told us we cannot investigate claims originating from the Internet about this," the reporter told Reuters.

In a Beijing coffee shop, resident Li Chunhu said he thought the scandal and how the government had handled it showed nobody was above the law, a theme state media has been keen to push.

"I think the government is handling this in an appropriate way, according to law. I have confidence that the outcome will be balanced and fair," said Li.

(Additional reporting by Sabrina Mao, and Melanie Lee in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard, editing by Brian Rhoads and Ron Popeski)

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