Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Opposition forces Tung to bend on security law

POLITICAL CRISIS Hong Kong's chief executive is trying to make the anti-subversion bill more palatable, but critics says he is ignoring the views of the people

AP , HONG KONG

PHOTO: AP

Hong Kong's leader said yesterday he would tone down an anti-subversion bill that prompted a protest by 500,000 people, but he drew more political fire by saying he still wants the measure passed next week.

Critics demanded time for further consultations to ensure that the bill does not undermine Hong Kong's civil liberties. They accused Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) of ignoring the views of the people by pushing to have it enacted on schedule this Wednesday.

Tung said he would scrap a provision that allows some groups to be banned, add protections for journalists who publish classified information and delete a provision that would let police conduct searches without warrants.

His political foes weren't silenced, with some predicting Tung had been so badly weakened by the crisis that he could be forced to step down.

"The public is demanding a delay in the bill because they want consultations," independent legislator Audrey Eu said by telephone. "It's not the time for a patch-up job at the 11th hour and 59 minutes."

Surrounded by Cabinet members and top aides at a news conference, Tung acknowledged the massive outpouring of public sentiment had forced the embarrassing retreat from parts of the national security law and said "my colleagues and myself have to do better."

Tung found himself in the biggest political crisis since Hong Kong was returned from Britain to China, and the pressure became insurmountable after a key legislative ally went to Beijing and returned Friday saying he supported a delay in passing the law.

The law is required under the territory's mini-constitution that took effect at the handover on July 1, 1997, and Tung called it "a sacrosanct duty of the people of Hong Kong."

Tung predicted that the bill can pass because his changes mean "the controversy is no longer there," but critics immediately disagreed.

Opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho said outlawing sedition poses a threat to journalists, and she said other serious offenses carrying life prison sentences are too loosely defined.

"There are so many problems with this legislation," said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a non-governmental organization. "Why don't we give everybody some kind of cooling-off period and then conduct consultations?"

The bill outlaws subversion, treason, sedition and other crimes against the state, imposing life prison sentences for some offenses.Also See Story:

Taiwan to keep eye on HK bill

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