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02/24/2013

Bearded, emaciated Bo Xilai 'raising Cain' in prison

Disgraced Chinese leader Bo Xilai – held behind bars for almost a year now – is not going down without a fight.

Or a beard.

The once debonair Bo – formerly Communist Party chief of Chongqing, a municipality as populous as Canada – is reported to have gone on a hunger strike twice during his incarceration and has now grown a chest-length beard, Reuters reports.

The 63-year-old Bo was arrested last year following the sensational revelation that his wife Gu Kailai had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood – a crime for which she is now serving a life sentence.

The scandal erupted last year, just as Bo was poised to ascend the highest echelons of Chinese political power. His popularity had been soaring.

Just months before, Henry Kissinger had declared that Bo represented “China’s future.”

Instead, Bo was arrested on corruption charges – and blamed for both Heywood’s death and the ensuing avalanche of unwanted international media attention that followed.

The once-mighty man’s undoing began Feb. 6, 2012, when his disgruntled, demoted police chief Wang Lijun sought asylum inside the U.S. Consulate in Sichuan, where is believed to have passed on documents revealing the Heywood murder, as well as details of deep-seated corruption inside Bo’s circle.

Bo’s power knew no limits: reports at the time said his intelligence people even listened in on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s telephone conversations whenever he was in the area.

Two independent sources told the news agency that his trial, which many had speculated would take place in March, could now be delayed because Bo is not “physically fit.”

“He was not tortured,” one source said, “but fell ill and was taken to hospital in Beijing.”

Some websites reported that Bo had suffered a mild stroke.

In any event, the prospects for a show trial are dim – the Chinese authorities would never allow an emaciated, bearded Bo appear before the cameras.

That wouldn’t reflect well on the Party.

But they could comfortably proceed behind closed doors, as is sometimes done in the People’s Republic.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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