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China in dark over key murder trial

One of China's most politically sensitive murder trials, involving the death of a British businessman, starts on Thursday, but most the country remains completely unaware.

Everywhere the talk is more about China's medal tally at the Olympics than the drama surrounding Gu Kailai, who is accused of killing Neil Heywood, when her husband Bo Xilai was the Communist Party boss of Chongqing metropolis.

Gu's case may have riveted the international community, but it is barely causing a ripple among ordinary Chinese, underscoring how far removed such high-stakes political manoeuvring is from their lives. The lack of awareness points in part to the government's relative success with censorship and limiting media exposure of the case, which has embarrassed the Communist Party ahead of its carefully managed once-a-decade reshuffle of power later this year. Bo was a contender for a top job until his downfall earlier this year.

As the party boss of Chongqing, Bo was prominent, powerful and popular. Lawyer Gu - even though she did not have an official role in the party - wielded enormous influence thanks to her husband.

Their life fell apart when an aide to Bo fled briefly to an American consulate in February, apparently with evidence of the Bo family's involvement in the death of Mr Heywood, who had dealings with Gu. That resulted in Bo's removal from key posts and an April announcement that Gu and a household aide were chief suspects in the murder.

Various unconfirmed theories abound online as to why the trial is being held in Hefei, capital of Anhui province. Key among the leadership's considerations could be to move the case away from Bo's influence in Chongqing and the heavy political shadow of Beijing.

"In Chongqing, people would have said there is a local bias either for or against," said Francois Godement, a China politics expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "In Beijing, it would have been a high profile political case."

Trials like this are generally behind closed doors. Some British diplomats are expected to attend, but international media will be kept away.

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