A group of Communist Party veterans have written a daring open letter calling for the removal of China's top security official, in the latest sign of disunity ahead of Beijing's leadership transition.
Security chief Zhou Yongkang, one of China's top nine rulers, is viewed as a hardliner and is linked to Bo Xilai , the charismatic party leader whose downfall earlier this year triggered the nation's biggest political scandal in decades.
In an open letter to President Hu Jintao, published on a number of overseas websites, the veterans suggest that Zhou is part of a movement to revive the China of Mao Zedong
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Zhao Zhengrong, a retired anti-corruption official from the southwestern province of Yunnan, told the AFP news agency that he, and 15 other party members from the same province, had sent the proposal advocating Zhou's removal to higher authorities.
Speculation has been growing about the future of Zhou since the downfall of another top politician, Bo Xilai.
Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan said that the letter was significant because it was rare to see this type of dissent in China.
"For the first time in 20 years, we really are seeing a debate and a split in the political leadership," she said.
Despite this divide, she said the letter was unlikely to have any impact on the national government.
"What's lost in this entire narrative is that the next president and premier of China are not going to change," she explained.
Signal to the people
Zhou is expected to step down from the nine-member Standing Committee, and as head of the party's Politics and Law Commission, which oversees China's judiciary, prosecution and police at the party congress later this year.
But removing him earlier would send a signal to the people on which direction the nation was heading, the open letter said.
"We are demanding this because Zhou Yongkang directed the 'Chongqing model' and supported Bo Xilai. They are liars, they are of the same ilk," Zhao said.
Zhao was referring to Bo's rule of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, which included an anti-mafia crackdown that many say involved widespread use of torture, and a leftist revival that saw residents sing Maoist songs.
The letter said: "People like Zhou Yongkang, not only took part in Bo Xilai's plan for the 'Chongqing model', but helped push it forward and gave it active support. He should not be allowed to escape his crimes."
During his five years in the position, Zhou - who oversees a budget this year of $111.6bn - has gained a reputation as a hardliner willing to use force to quell unrest.
He oversaw the quelling of riots in Tibet in 2008, and in Xinjiang in 2009, as well as a crackdown on democracy and rights activists.
The letter seems to warn about the dangers of reviving an interest in Chairman Mao and his policies.
It stresses the danger China faces from corruption and the inequality of wealth without political reform.
There has been no official comment from the leadership on the letter, which was released on May 4.
The letter also called for the sacking of Liu Yunshan, the head of the party's propaganda department.
Liu has been tipped for promotion later this year when the party holds a once in a decade reshuffle of its top leaders.
Al Jazeera's Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said: "This incident shows the rifts and infighting behind close doors.
"It has been known for some time there has been a power struggle between the reformers and the new-leftists who are calling for the return of the old Maoist ideals."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies