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Chinese army leaders call for unity after Bo Xilai’s dismissal

Chinese senior military officers and commissars joined the Communist Party’s vast propaganda machine Friday in a flood of calls for unity following the purge of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges.

The unusual pleas from the political leadership of the People’s Liberation Army seemed designed to counter persistent rumors of splits within the ranks over Bo’s ouster, and to dampen speculation that the charismatic Bo — the son of a revolutionary hero — still has residual support in the military. But the intensity of the barrage raised as many questions as it answered.

“The incident has sounded the alarm for the party members and cadres, warning us to effectively check erroneous ideas and harmful tendencies at the outset and combat corruption and moral degeneration,” said Pan Yong, political commissar of the Meishan Military Sub-Command of the Sichuan Provincial Military Command. His comment was reported on the army’s Web site, China Military Online.

Another commissar, Li Xilou of the Beijing Military Region, was quoted as saying, “The incident warns us that keeping sober-minded and politically steadfast is an indispensable ideological and political quality of each party member and every leading cadre.” The article said Li spoke “with emotion.”

Yin Fanglong, head of the political department of the 2nd Artillery Corps, the unit that controls the army’s nuclear and conventional missiles, wrote in a piece in Friday’s People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main mouthpiece: “We should boycott all wrong ideas and refute those key issues like ‘the military should be not led by party.’ When encountering a situation when it’s hard to choose between emotion and principle, we should choose to put personal relationships subordinate to the development of the party’s cause.”

That statement by the corps’ political director was viewed as particularly significant because the corps’ political commissar, Zhang Haiyang, is said to be close to Bo and has been linked to Bo’s activities in Chongqing by a fugitive businessman, Li Jun. The Washington Post described last month how Li was jailed and beaten after making a lucrative land deal in Chongqing, where Bo was party chief, that allegedly upset Zhang.

Bo was suspended Tuesday from the 25-member Politburo and the Party Central Committee. His wife, Gu Kailai, was arrested along with a household aide after reports in the official media linked them to the mysterious death of British businessman Neil Heywood in November.

Heywood was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room, and police initially said he died from alcohol abuse. But in February, Bo’s former right-hand man, Wang Lijun, the vice mayor and onetime police chief, turned up at the U.S. Consulate 200 miles away in the city of Chengdu, claiming he had evidence that Heywood had been murdered and seeking refuge from Chongqing police.

Friday’s statements from the military leaders vowing loyalty to the party that had sacked Bo came after China’s naval chief made similar statements in a long article published in Thursday’s People’s Daily. Adm. Liu Xiaojiang, commissar of the navy, warned troops to “absolutely stop gossiping, inquiring blindly or spreading wrong information.” He added, “Don’t listen, don’t trust, and don’t spread all these political rumors, especially those on the Internet.”

Since the political crisis involving Bo erupted last month, the government has sought to clamp down on Internet rumors, which have included unsubstantiated reports of rifts in the top ranks and an erroneous report, spread on Twitter and other microblogging sites, of a military coup.

Since mid-March, Chinese authorities have shut down some 42 Web sites, and many users of the microblogging sites, collectively called “weibo,” have found their service disabled or their followers unable to post comments. Terms pertaining to Bo, Gu, Chongqing and political unrest have been blocked from search engines, and some Internet users have reported difficulty accessing foreign Web sites, including U.S. and other foreign news sites.

Researchers Wang Juan in Shanghai and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

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