BEIJING (AP) -- An anti-corruption drive launched by China's newly installed leadership claimed its highest-level victim Thursday with the firing of a senior provincial official.
The ruling Communist Party's personnel office confirmed that Li Chuncheng was removed as deputy party secretary of Sichuan province and dismissed from the Central Committee following state media reports that he was suspected in influence-peddling and questionable real estate deals. The personnel office, in a brief dispatch carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, said only that Li was fired for unspecified disciplinary violations.
Li's downfall was unexpected and swift, coming less than a month after a party congress named him as a non-voting member of the Central Committee, a position that usually marks one as a member of the political elite.
But the timing and the target appear intended to underscore the new leadership's determination to root out the widespread graft that has disgusted the public and undermined the party's legitimacy.
"Opposing corruption is becoming an extremely important part of Chinese politics because the Communist Party must win hearts of people that have already been fed up with the corruption of the officials," said Liu Shanying, a politics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Li Chuncheng is the first ministerial level official fired after the party congress, but he is definitely not the last one," Liu said. "It's possible that more officials at his level or even higher will be dealt with."
The new leadership took office last month, calling the stanching of corruption an urgent matter of survival for the party. In the weeks since, several low level officials have been ousted, among them a small city police chief for keeping twin sisters as mistresses and a big city district party secretary after a video surfaced showing him having sex with a woman allegedly sent by construction company executives hoping to blackmail him.
Li, however, is suspected of corruption on a much larger scale. State media have reported that he was suspected of buying and selling official positions and, as a senior official in the city of Chengdu and later of Sichuan province, had a hand in steering real estate development deals in return for favors.