Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China may offer visas to Hong Kong democracy activists

REUTERS , HONG KONG

China appears ready to grant visas to Hong Kong democracy activists long barred from entering the mainland, a fresh sign of a thaw in frosty relations between Beijing and the city's pro-democracy camp.

In another conciliatory move, Chinese officials also initiated a friendly meeting with Joseph Zen (陳日君), the Roman Catholic bishop of Hong Kong and a vocal supporter of the democracy campaign.

Quoting unidentified sources, the Hong Kong Economic Times and Ming Pao dailies reported yesterday that China would soon issue visas to some Hong Kong democracy advocates in a goodwill move. The newspapers gave no names.

Beijing's top envoy in Hong Kong was also reported as saying that granting such visas was now a possibility.

Newspapers quoted Yang Wenchang (楊文昌), the Foreign Ministry's commissioner in Hong Kong, as saying: "I think anybody would have the chance to go to the mainland."

He had been asked if democracy advocates who had been denied visas would now be able to visit mainland China.

Hong Kong's democracy activists have long been a thorn in Beijing's side and some have been barred from the mainland for more than a decade. However, both sides have made conciliatory gestures in recent weeks ahead of a pro-democracy protest march on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.

Commenting on the march, Yang said Hong Kong people had the right to protest but they should exercise that right correctly.

Bishop Zen, who has urged the city's 6.8 million residents to join the march, said yesterday he had met Chinese officials on Friday at their invitation.

"We had a good, frank and friendly talk. The atmosphere was peaceful," Zen told reporters.

Organizers of the rally expect 300,000 people to demonstrate for the right to directly elect their own leader and all of their lawmakers from 2007, demands that Beijing rejected in April.

In a poll by Ming Pao, 40 percent of 86 respondents said they would join Thursday's march.

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