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Chinese city beset by scandal tries to turn page

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BEIJING — The new leadership in a Chinese mega-city beset by a murder scandal that took down its Communist Party boss said Monday that lessons must be learned from the embarrassing episode and efforts made to repair the city's image.

Zhang Dejiang, the new top official in southwestern Chongqing city, which oversees a region the size of Austria, told a gathering of its leaders that the political upheaval earlier this year had damaged the Communist Party and the nation.

Zhang's predecessor, Bo Xilai, was dismissed in March after a longtime aide fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Bo's wife had been involved in the death of a British businessman.

Zhang gave no updates on Bo or his wife, Gu Kailai, and gave no hint as to whether Bo is to face trial or punishment for his unspecified violations.

Little has been reported by China's state-run media about Bo since his dismissal — an apparent attempt to keep the lurid details of the scandal from marring a once-a-decade national leadership transition just months away. Bo, once a rising star, had been expected to be a key figure in that reshuffle.

Zhang told the opening of Chongqing's annual party congress that Bo's case had a "severe impact on the reform and development" of the city and that "serious lessons" should be taken from the incident by local officials. He said officials have held meetings on the incident and reflected on it.

"Everybody agreed that ... that there should be an earnest search for work-related problems so improvements can be made," Zhang said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted to the city's official website.

He also tried to separate Bo from Chongqing's sizzling economic growth, praising the public and remaining cadres for the mega-city's success in recent years.

Bo is believed to be under house arrest in Beijing, while his wife and a household aide are in formal detention. The ex-police chief, Wang Lijun, who went to the consulate, is believed to be in the custody of China's main intelligence service. He could face the death penalty for treason, though he's expected to receive leniency for providing evidence against Bo and his wife.

The leadership handover — in which President Hu Jintao and most others will cede their posts to Vice President Xi Jinping and a new group of leaders — will formally take place at a congress expected in the fall.