Chinese leaders ended a key closed-door conclave on Sunday with a decision to formally expel disgraced politician Bo Xilai from the Communist Party, in a meeting which also promoted two senior military men and approved the party constitution's amendment.
The secretive four-day meeting of 365 senior party officials ratified an earlier decision to expel Bo, former Chongqing party boss, as well as Liu Zhijun, one-time railway minister, sacked last year for "serious disciplinary violations", state news agency Xinhua said.
Bo and Liu can now be expected to face criminal charges and a trial. The party plenum comes just days before the opening of a congress in Beijing on November 8 that will usher in a generational leadership change, which has been overshadowed by a scandal with Bo, who had once been a contender for top office himself.
The government accused Bo in September of corruption and of bending the law to hush up his wife's murder of a British businessman. While she has since been jailed, Bo has yet to be formally charged. Liu was fired early last year over corruption charges. His reputation was further marred after a train crash in China a few months later killed 40 people.
Although the accident happened after Liu's dismissal, the government said he was primarily responsible as safety standards at the rail ministry had slipped under his watch. Xinhua provided no other details of either case, in a report full of turgid Communist terminology designed to curtain-raise the congress, at which President Hu Jintao will hand over his party duties to anointed successor Xi Jinping.
Another announcement from the plenum was the appointments of two new chairmen to the party's powerful Central Military Commission that oversees the People's Liberation Army and China's rapid defence modernisation efforts.
Former air force commander Xu Qiliang and Fan Changlong, the head of the important Jinan military region which oversees large parts of eastern China, will join that body, Xinhua said. Sources had told Reuters that Xu had been tipped to do so. The plenum also approved an amendment to the party charter, Xinhua said.
It did not identify the change, but there has been speculation the party may strip out mention of the ideology of late paramount leader Mao Zedong, known as "Mao Zedong Thought".
The plenum communique did not mention Mao, marking at least the third time the party has subtly dropped references to Mao since October, a move that was seen by some as sending a signal about the party's intent on reform. In the past five years the party has "withstood the trials of numerous difficulties and risks", but has managed to maintain stable and relatively fast economic growth and rising living standards, the statement said. The official report on the meeting otherwise shed little light on what of substance was discussed, including possible preparations for the long-expected succession and prospects for economic growth, which slowed a little in the third quarter.
Plenums are annual gatherings of the Central Committee, the largest of the party's top decision-making bodies, to approve broad decisions on the direction of government policy. In China, power resides in the party elite and meetings of the Central Committee also offer chances for provincial chieftains to make known their policies and press for promotion. The blueprint from the plenum will be presented to parliament for formal approval in March.