Thu, Jul 10, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kong sees huge night-time public protests

ARTICLE 23 As the vote on the controversial anti-subversion bill was delayed after public opposition, the SAR's chief executive's future was looking gloomy

AP , HONG KONG

Thousands of demonstrators gather outside the legislative chambers in Hong Kong yesterday to protest an anti-subversion bill, which critics call a threat to Hong Kong's freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of pro-democracy activists gathered outside the legislature yesterday night, voicing disapproval of Hong Kong's leader and his handling of an anti-subversion bill that has been delayed by a huge public outcry.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) faces numerous demands to resign over the mishandling of the national security bill. Tung acknowledged earlier yesterday his administration faces "huge challenges," but vowed to overcome them.

"Our goal is clear. It is to win back the support and trust of the people," Tung told reporters.

But a crowd estimated by organizers at 10,000 said they did not respect Tung and would like to replace the current political system with full democracy.

Hong Kong people now have no say in picking their leader and are only able to cast votes on some legislative seats.

"Return rule to the people," they chanted. Some held signs with Tung's name placed upside down in Chinese.

Police had no immediate estimate for the crowd size, but it was far less than the 500,000 people who turned out on July 1 to protest the anti-subversion bill that many here call a threat to freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Tung has insisted that Hong Kong will pass the measure outlawing subversion, treason, sedition and other crimes against the state, as required by the mini-constitution that took effect when Britain returned this former colony to China six years ago.

Critics say the government has gone too far with its proposed law that will impose life prison sentences for some offenses.

"We shall overcome," the protesters sang yesterday night, with their voices ringing into the Legislative Council chambers, where lawmakers were opening debate on a bill to legalize soccer betting.

The lawmakers had been scheduled to vote yesterday on the anti-subversion measure, required by Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution. But the huge protest last week threw Tung's government into crisis and forced a delay that opposition leaders call their first significant victory over the administration since the handover.

Tung tried to appease critics by watering down the bill at the last minute, but his plan to pass it on time collapsed when a key legislative ally withdrew support.

"The administration is facing some huge challenges," Tung told reporters yesterday evening, without taking questions. "I'm confident we, as a team, will be able to ride out these challenges."

Also see story:

Tung's fate sealed by Article 23 protests

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