Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - Page 1 News List

HK leader gives policy address amid protests

AFP and REUTERS, HONG KONG

Demonstrators display placards against Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying prior to his policy address in Hong Kong yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) unveiled measures to increase land supply to bring down property prices and called for closer economic integration with China yesterday in a maiden policy speech likely to win him as many foes as friends.

Leung, who took office in July on a platform of making housing more affordable, unveiled policies aimed at reviving his reputation after several scandals, mass protests and a failed impeachment in his first six months in office.

Hundreds of protesters surrounded the legislature as Leung spoke, some demanding he resign.

In a speech widely seen as an attempt to address rising anti-China sentiment and halt mass protests against Leung’s government, the Beijing-backed leader pledged to increase housing supply, reduce choking pollution and tackle poverty.

Leung’s first policy address comes a week after pro-democracy lawmakers failed to impeach him and following large-scale protests pressing for greater democracy.

He took office in July after being chosen by the 1,200-member Hong Kong Election Committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites, amid rising anger over what many see as China’s meddling in local affairs.

“The top priority of the current term government is to tackle the housing problem,” the 58-year-old told lawmakers, following a sharp rise in property prices and an outcry over the cramped living conditions of tens of thousands.

He pledged that the government would increase land supply to provide about 128,700 new homes “in the short to medium-term,” with a range of measures including the conversion of 13 “green belt” zones and further land reclamation.

On air pollution, which regularly shrouds Hong Kong’s iconic skyline in smog and is said to kill about 3,200 of its residents annually, Leung said the government would set aside HK$10 billion (US$1.3 billion) to phase out old diesel-engine vehicles.

New laws to ensure ships berthing at Hong Kong switch to cleaner fuels will also be considered.

He also said that a poverty line would be set to try to help the “many people who live a hand-to-mouth existence,” the number of residential care places for the elderly would be increased and the possibility of free kindergarten places for all children would be examined.

A popular ban stopping pregnant mainland Chinese women from visiting the territory to give birth so their children can acquire residence would be maintained.

Skirting the thorny issue of the universal suffrage demanded by many, he reiterated that the government would launch a consultation on electing the chief executive in 2017 “at an appropriate juncture.”

However, a proposed consultation on making discrimination on the basis of sexuality an offense was shelved, with Leung saying society was “deeply divided over the issue.”

As he prepared to speak, several pro-democracy lawmakers were ordered to leave after chanting: “Leung Chun-ying, step down.”

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