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By John Ruwitch
JINAN, China, Aug 21 (Reuters) - The trial of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai will be televised live to reporters in eastern China, a Hong Kong-based broadcaster said, a landmark move by authorities to appear transparent as they put a lid on the country's biggest political scandal in decades.
Bo, 64, is set to appear in public for the first time in 17 months in a court in the eastern city of Jinan in Shandong province on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power, capping the country's biggest political scandal since the 1976 downfall of the Gang of Four at the end of the Cultural Revolution.
The trial will be televised live to reporters in a hotel in Jinan, where a media reception centre has been set up specially for reporters, Phoenix Television reported late on Tuesday, citing an unnamed television official from Shandong. There will also be live microblogging, the broadcaster said.
A court spokeswoman in Jinan told Reuters information about the proceedings would be given to journalists during the trial but said she had not received any information on whether it would be televised live. An official from state broadcaster CCTV said the trial would not be televised live nationally.
The last television coverage of a major trial in China was when state television broadcast excerpts from the trial of the Gang of Four in 1980. Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, was removed from the courtroom several times after shouting down judges and insulting witnesses as she stood trial for crimes committed during the Cultural Revolution.
Bo's trial is officially scheduled to start on Thursday.
But the charge of abuse of power against Bo relates to his flouting the authority of central leaders in Beijing, sources told Reuters on Tuesday, an allegation so sensitive that his trial could start one day sooner to hear it in secret.
On Wednesday, however, there was no immediate sign that the trial had started.
The trial of Bo, a charismatic and well-loved leader to some and a power-hungry politician to others, could sharpen rifts within a society that is already divided about his fate.
About 10 supporters of Bo protested briefly outside the courthouse in Jinan, holding signs that said: "We're watching the Bo trial to see if it's fair and just."
"Bo Xilai is not corrupt, Bo Xilai works for the people and is a good cadre," said a protester from Beijing surnamed Li. "Others have talked about serving the people but they have just left the people hanging out to dry and not done anything practical for the people."
"I hope the Communist Party and (President) Xi Jinping will support justice."
Before his dramatic fall last year, Bo, the party chief of Chongqing metropolis, was set to join the upper ranks of China's leadership. But his rise was stopped by a murder scandal involving his wife, Gu Kailai, and his former police chief, Wang Lijun.
Both Gu and Wang have since been jailed over the scandal, which stems from the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.
After his appointment as party boss of Chongqing in 2007, Bo turned the region into a showcase of revolution-inspired Maoist "red" culture, as well as state-led economic growth. Bo's populist ways were welcomed by many of Chongqing's 30 million residents - and others across the country.
"I have my own case for over 20 years and have come to see if Bo Xilai can get justice because if a member of the Politburo can get no justice, then we have no hope," Bao Runpu, a petitioner from northern Hebei province, said.
Bo's son, Bo Guagua, has urged the authorities to allow his father to defend himself at his trial. Bo is almost certain to be found guilty, given that China's prosecutors and courts come under Communist Party control and courts have a 98 percent conviction rate. (Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li in BEIJING, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)