CHONGQING, China (Reuters) - China's central leadership has moved to bolster control over the southwest city-province of Chongqing after ousting its contentious yet popular chief, Bo Xilai, with state-run media on Saturday telling officials and residents there to toe the line.
The calls for unity with the ruling Communist Party's top leaders were emblazoned on the front pages of Chongqing newspapers. They made no mention of Bo, removed this week after a scandal when his Vice Mayor Wang Lijun took refuge in February in a U.S. consulate until he was coaxed out.
Until that episode, Bo was widely seen as an ambition-fuelled contender for a spot in the next central leadership to be settled late this year. But now the message to Chongqing officials and residents amounts to: forget about Bo, even if days ago he was China's most high-profile province-level leader.
"Unite our thinking and actions around the decision of the central leadership," said one of the front-page headlines of the Chongqing Times, which was given over to calls for conformity.
"The voice of the party centre is a reassuring tonic," said another, citing messages from official meetings.
The Chongqing Daily reported that city officials on Friday effectively pledged loyalty to President Hu Jintao and the new boss in Chongqing, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang.
"All unanimously declared that they will sincerely embrace the central leadership's decision on adjusting the municipality party committee's leader and handling the Wang Lijun case," the paper reported of a meeting of Chongqing officials.
"Do not disappoint the sincere expectations of the central leadership," the officials were told, according to the report.
NO MENTION OF OUSTED LEADER
The absence of any mention Bo Xilai by name in state media was another sign of the fall from grace for a man who, unusually among China's poker-faced leaders, reveled in publicity.
"After the Wang Lijun incident, the central leadership initially left room to spare Bo by treating it as an isolated case, but I think the leadership got fed up with the defiance from Chongqing," said Zhu Zhiyong, a Chongqing businessman and Internet commentator who closely follows city politics.
After arriving in Chongqing in 2007, Bo, 62 and a former commerce minister, turned it into a bastion of Communist revolutionary-inspired "red" culture and egalitarian growth, winning national attention with a crackdown on organized crime.
His self-promotion and revival of Mao Zedong-inspired propaganda irked moderate officials. But his populist ways and crime clean-up were welcomed by many residents and others who hoped Bo could try his policies nationwide.
"I think Chongqing officials will quickly fall in line with the new leaders. Many are relieved that all the pressure and drama over Bo and Wang has lifted," said Zhu, the commentator.
"Ordinary people feel different. They saw the changes Bo made, but not the costs and political tensions he created."
Indeed, while Chongqing newspapers said residents have embraced Bo's successor, residents of the riverside city continued to voice dismay at the dumping of Bo.
"It's hard for us to understand this," said Xia Hao, a businessman in his thirties.
"The problem is that Chongqing had party secretaries before who came and left, like Wang Yang and He Guoqiang, but nothing about the city changed much then," he said.
"But after Bo Xilai came here, we could see and feel all the changes, so people don't understand what he did that was so wrong."
(Editing by Ron Popeski)