Top China official Ling Jihua in surprise demotion

China's President Hu Jintao attends the closing session of the National Peoples Congress at The Great Hall Of The People on March 14, 2012 in Beijing, China. Ling Jihua was seen as close to China's President Hu Jintao (pictured)

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A close ally of China's president has been demoted, according to state media, in what is seen as a surprise move.

Ling Jihua had been tipped for promotion in the country's leadership change, which starts later this year.

Correspondents say Mr Ling's demotion may have been the result of political manoeuvring ahead of the change, which happens once every 10 years.

But there have also been reports that his son's involvement in a Ferrari car crash may have been to blame.

Ling Jihua held a senior position in President Hu's government as head of the Central Committee's General Office, in effect the chief of staff to China's leader.

He was moved to the less influential position of head of the United Front Work Department over the weekend.

'Too serious'

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says the decision may have been part of the political jockeying as China's new generation of leaders vie to get their allies into top jobs and shore up support ahead of the power transfer.

But there are also rumours in China that Mr Ling's son may have been driving a Ferrari that crashed in Beijing earlier this year.

The identity of the passengers was never revealed and censors blocked online comments mentioning the crash, but there are reports that his son was behind the wheel and may even have been killed.

Our correspondent says that with growing public anger at official corruption, the Communist Party would have wanted to avoid a scandal that exposed the privileged lifestyle of the ruling elite.

"The central leadership decided that the scandal over the incident was too serious to allow Ling Jihua to be promoted, and Hu Jintao really couldn't resist," one retired party official told the Reuters news agency.

China experienced its biggest political scandal in a generation earlier this year when politician Bo Xilai was sacked and his wife found guilty of murdering a British businessman.

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