Sun, Jan 02, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Thousands march in HK to protest political meddling

AP , HONG KONG

Thousands of protesters march in downtown Hong Kong yesterday, accusing opposition politicians of damaging the territory's image as a global financial center after the government was forced to shelve the listing of its planned property trust on the stock exchange.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Hong Kong yesterday, accusing opposition lawmakers of sabotaging business deals and damaging the territory's image as a global financial hub.

The crowd, which police said totaled about 2,000, slowly shuffled through the Central business district. Some held a big yellow banner that said, "Politicians without a conscience ruin Hong Kong."

Many were senior citizens and middle-aged professionals in the financial industry. Several said this was the first time they joined a demonstration.

"The economy should be independent of politics," said one protester, a 45-year-old banker who only gave her surname, Ho. "If it's not, it will badly affect the international image of Hong Kong."

One of the events that triggered the demonstration was a failed stock offering that would have created the world's largest property trust.

Two weeks ago, the government was forced to shelve the planned offering for the trust -- valued at US$3 billion -- just hours before it was to be listed because of a lawsuit filed by a 67-year-old low-income housing tenant.

The elderly woman, who claimed the listing violated government regulations, was backed by several opposition lawmakers, including Albert Cheng (鄭經翰), a former popular radio talk show host who recently entered politics.

The government had wanted to sell 151 shopping centers and 79,000 parking spaces through the trust, called Link Real Estate Investment Trust, or REIT.

Cheng and other lawmakers had accused the government of selling the assets too cheaply. Cheng financially backed the tenant Lo Siu-lan for launching the lawsuit. The case pitted the elderly woman against the government and half a million Hong Kong investors who subscribed for the sale.

Protest organizer Wong Kwok-on, head of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Industry Staff Union, accused Cheng of needlessly harming investors' interests.

Much of the anger yesterday was directed at Cheng, and as people marched through the streets, they chanted, "Albert Cheng resign!"

Cheng told reporters he was merely trying to uphold the rule of law and make sure that the property trust was legal. He said the government was at fault for not shelving the listing earlier and waiting for the legal appeal process to end.

"The government made a mistake and now they're pointing a finger at me," Cheng said.

Engineer Hamish Wong, 55, one of the protesters, said he didn't think the failure to list the property trust would damage Hong Kong's reputation as a global business center. He said it proved that the territory still had a strong legal system.

But Wong said he joined the demonstration to show his disgust of politicians whom he accused of blocking business deals to further their own political interests.

"The way it [the property trust] is being blocked is very politically motivated," Wong said.

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