Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Two HK Cabinet secretaries resign

POLITICAL CRISIS Antony Leung stepped down over allegations surrounding a car purchase, while Regina Ip called it quits amid the furor over the anti-subversion bill

AGENCIES , HONG KONG

PHOTO: AP

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Antony Leung (梁錦松) announced his resignation yesterday just hours after the government said Security Secretary Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀) had quit.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) said: "After consideration, I have decided to respect his wish and accept his resignation."

Leung came under pressure to resign after it was revealed he had bought a luxury car just weeks before he announced in March the government's budget in which taxes on such cars were hiked.

Leung issued a short statement that made no mention of the car scandal but said he had carried out his duties with "a clear conscience at all times."

Ip's resignation came amid a crisis that exploded over an anti-subversion bill that was halted by massive public discontent.

Ip said her departure was "entirely due to personal reasons" but also expressed concerns that the national security bill was "not completed as scheduled" despite her persistent efforts.

Critics said Ip's resignation was inevitable after her handling of the contentious bill threw Hong Kong's government into its biggest crisis since the handover from to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

"As a Chinese national and the secretary for security, I sincerely believe I have a responsibility to actively promote this highly important legislative task," Ip said.

Tung said Ip had proposed stepping down on June 25 for personal reasons and that he argued she should stay, suggesting she take leave "to get some rest and sort out her personal matters before making up her mind."

"But regrettably I could not change her decision," Tung said.

Ever since the handover, Hong Kong has been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion in a national security bill, but critics say the government went way too far with a measure that could clamp down on local freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Ip rejected such worries and pushed hard to have the bill passed on July 9 as scheduled, but the government backed down following the July 1 protest by a half million people.

After the massive march, Tung's government was forced to water down parts of the bill, but he first tried to get it passed on schedule. That effort collapsed as legislative support dried up, and the bill was shelved. It now remains in limbo.

Earlier in the day, Beijing's top representative to Hong Kong warned pro-democracy politicians that their opposition to the national security bill will harm the economy, a state-run Chinese newspaper reported yesterday.

"Hong Kong is a city of business, not of politics," Gao Siren (高祀仁) was quoted as saying in yesterday's Hong Kong edition of the China Daily.

Gao warned that "extremely politicized" acts would harm economic development and contradict "the fundamental interests of Hong Kong," the China Daily reported.

Gao is the head of Beijing's government liaison office in Hong Kong.

Gao did not elaborate on what actions he was criticizing, but the China Daily called his remarks an obvious reference to pro-democracy figures who oppose the anti-subversion law.

Meanwhile, in a poll published yesterday, Tung's approval rating fell from 45.7 percent last month to 35.4 percent.

The ratings for all but two of Tung's 14 ministers have slumped below 50 percent with the biggest plunge in popularity being that of Ip, whose personal rating fell from 53 percent early last month to 34.6 percent this month.

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