One of China's most prominent politicians, Bo Xilai, was fired from his provincial leadership post in what could be the opening salvo in a struggle for control of the ruling Communist Party.

A popular and charismatic politician, Bo had been rumored to be under consideration for a promotion to the highly powerful Politburo Standing Committee, ahead of a radical shake-up expected at the 18th Communist congress this fall.

His ouster Thursday as party secretary of the sprawling southern city of Chongqing exposes deep divisions within China's ruling cadre, with Bo's state-dominated version of socialism pitted against the views of liberal-minded peers.

The firing came a day after Bo was criticized by Premier Wen Jiabao in a televised speech calling for political reform.

Now it looks like Wen Jiabao's comments yesterday represented the leadership's collective view that Bo needed to go, Chen Ziming, an independent scholar in Beijing, told Reuters. This will affect the leadership politics for the 18th Congress, because this opens up new uncertainties about who is in contention.

The announcement of the firing, carried by the official Xinhua news agency, didn't say if Bo had also been removed from his position on the party's central committee or the Politburo.

His ouster will be seen by many as a rejection of Bo's cult of New Leftism ahead of the party congress later this year, when party chief Hu Jintao and other elders will hand the reins of power to a younger generation led by Xi Jinping, currently the vice president.

Bo turned Chongqing into a model for his belief in a more egalitarian, or red, view of Chinese communism, the so-called Chongqing model.

The move risks angering Bo's supporters, many of whom were quick to criticize his departure.

The removal of Bo Xilai is a real shock to me. We don't know whether it's because of his personal errors or is an attack on the Chongqing model, Reuters quoted Sima Nan, a leftist writer and broadcaster in Beijing who has praised Bo, as saying. If this amounts to a negation of the Chongqing model, then I can't agree with this decision.

Bo was embroiled in a political scandal in early February after former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun spent the night at the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu. Wang was later coaxed out and detained by local authorities, pending an investigation, but the incident seemed to hasten Bo's downfall.