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BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of Chinese leftists has issued a public letter calling on the country's largely rubber stamp parliament not to expel disgraced former top leader Bo Xilai from its ranks, saying the move is legally questionable and politically motivated.
Stripping membership from Bo - the one-time Communist Party chief of Chongqing who is accused of abusing power, taking huge bribes and other crimes - also removes his immunity from prosecution, and paves the way for formal charges against him.
Bo's ouster has exposed deep rifts in the party between his leftist backers, who are nostalgic for the revolutionary era of Mao Zedong, and reformers, who advocate for faster political and economic reforms.
The letter, carried on the far-left Chinese-language website "Red China" and addressed to the parliament's standing committee, says the party is fuelling doubts about the accusations against Bo by refusing to discuss them publicly.
"What is the reason provided for expelling Bo Xilai? Please investigate the facts and the evidence," says the letter. "Please announce to the people evidence that Bo Xilai will be able to defend himself in accordance with the law."
Parliament and its members are there to provide oversight and make laws, not to "act as a rubber stamp" for attacks on people for personal reasons by political factions, it added.
Since Bo was ousted in March, he has not been seen in public and has not been allowed to answer the accusations against him. At a news conference days before his removal, Bo rejected as "filth" and "nonsense" the then unspecified allegations against him and his family.
The once high-flying Bo now faces a criminal investigation that stems from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing last year. Bo will almost certainly be jailed, following the imprisonment of Bo's wife Gu Kailai and his former police chief Wang Lijun.
The letter said there were still many doubts over the Heywood case, including how the defendants were allowed to defend themselves and the shortness of the two court cases.
"Is this not a big joke we are playing on the world when we have been telling people left, right and centre that we are a country with rule of law?"
"Red China", which has issued a torrent of commentary defending Bo, is blocked to the many Chinese users who do not know how to evade censorship barriers, and the letter is likely to fall on deaf ears in any case.
Parliament's standing committee, its top decision making body, meets for four days from Tuesday and is expected to throw Bo out of parliament, removing another hurdle for the smooth handling of a generational leadership transfer kicking off at a key party congress next month.
Bo, 63, was widely seen as pursuing a powerful spot in the new political line-up before his career unravelled after his former police chief fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February and alleged that Bo's wife Gu had poisoned Heywood to death.
After his appointment as party chief of Chongqing in 2007, Bo, a former commerce minister, turned it into a showcase of revolution-inspired "red" culture and his policies for egalitarian, state-led growth. He also won national attention with a crackdown on organised crime.
His brash self-promotion irked some leaders. But his populist ways and crime clean-up were welcomed by many of Chongqing's 30 million residents, as well as others who hoped that Bo could take his leftist-shaded policies nationwide.
His likely trial could still stir that ideological contention. China's party-run courts rarely find in favour of defendants, especially in politically-sensitive cases.
(This story corrected 13th paragraph to change length of meeting to four days, date of opening of meeting to Tuesday)
Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher