BEIJING  - Disgraced politician Bo Xilai will “face justice” for a litany of crimes, China said Friday as it announced the Communist Party would open a pivotal congress to select new leadership on November 8.

The apparent decision to come down hard on Bo for alleged abuse of power, taking bribes and illicit relations was the latest turn in a scandal that has rocked the party ahead of a once-a-decade leadership transition. Both Bo’s fate and the date of the congress have been the subjects of intense speculation over whether China’s biggest political intrigue in decades would unsettle the highly choreographed leadership change.

The announcement on Bo was an unprecedented harsh public rebuke for a Chinese Communist official as authorities looked to lay to rest the damaging episode that shocked China and saw Bo’s wife convicted of murder. “Bo Xilai’s behaviour created serious negative consequences, seriously damaged the party and the country’s reputation in China and abroad, created an extremely negative result, and created huge losses for the party and the Chinese people,” the Xinhua news agency said.

Bo, the party boss of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, was seen as a candidate for promotion to the party’s top echelons. But he was brought down earlier this year by murder allegations against his wife Gu Kailai that came to light when Bo’s right hand man and police chief Wang Lijun turned against him. Bo “made serious errors and he bears the major responsibility” for the scandal that saw Gu convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood after a multi-million-dollar deal went sour, Xinhua said.

The harsh accusations against Bo look likely to result in a lengthy prison sentence, said veteran China political analyst Willy Lam. “It’s stronger than expected. People were expecting that he would be kicked out of the party but not necessarily subject to criminal procedures,” said Lam, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Bo was removed from his Chongqing post earlier and analysts said the affair exposed deep divisions within the Communist Party as he retains a large following among left-leaning party members.

Lam said this likely will spare Bo the death penalty - a possibility for corruption charges.

“It looks like they will charge him with serious corruption and give him a stiff sentence of around 20 years,” he said.

Friday’s announcement now likely sets the stage for what will be a highly anticipated yet secretive closed-door trial for Bo.

Xinhua said that Bo, who had been a member of the powerful Politburo, was stripped of his party membership and positions, a step that in China clears the way for wayward Communist officials to be formally prosecuted.

It said Bo “seriously violated party discipline and abused his power with regards to the Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun cases, made serious errors, for which he bears the major responsibility, abused his public position to aid others and, directly and through family members, received huge bribes from others.”

It also said Gu abused Bo’s position to win favours for associates and relatives, including “huge financial benefits” and that Bo had “inappropriate sexual relationships with several women”.

It added that investigations into the affair had also found evidence of unspecified “other crimes”. It gave no specifics on any of the criminal allegations.

The Communists had hoped for a smooth build-up to a congress that is tightly scripted to underline the party’s claim to be the only legitimate force capable of ruling the world’s most populous nation.

But the party has instead been rocked by the Bo case and the details of murder, million-dollar deals and the affluent lifestyles of the Communist Party power elite that it laid bare.

The party congress typically lasts about one week, and ends with the traditional unveiling of a new Politburo line-up that this year is expected to see Vice President Xi Jinping promoted to Communist Party general-secretary.

According to the Communist script, that paves the way for Xi to be named the country’s president - replacing Hu Jintao - by the Chinese legislature when it meets in March.

The new line-up will step in at a time of uncertainty for the Chinese economy and a bristling territorial row in Japan.

Now the world’s second-largest economy, China has seen a slowdown in its usually supercharged expansion rates in excess of 10 percent.

The economy has been hit hard by problems in major export markets such as Europe, and there have been mounting questions over the sustainability of China’s export-led growth model.

The next generation also will need to restore the party’s image after the Bo scandal and the details it revealed on the lives of top officials at a time when a widening wealth gap and official corruption are hot-button issues.

China’s leaders also face pressure to appease Chinese nationalist sentiments inflamed by a dispute with Japan over ownership of a group of rocky islets in the East China Sea, which has triggered violent anti-Japanese protests in China and an intensifying war of words between top officials on both sides.