Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Blair presses Hong Kong on expanding democracy

REUTERS , HONG KONG

British Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed yesterday for quick progress toward greater democracy in Hong Kong after mass protests and stressed the need for stability in one of the world's top financial centers.

Blair, at the end of a Far East tour, cut short his visit to the former British colony as a powerful typhoon approached.

But he is flying into a raging political storm back home over the suicide of a weapons expert at the centre of a row over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Blair said Britain was committed to full elections in Hong Kong, which has been rocked in recent weeks by mass protests against the China-backed government and a planned anti-subversion bill.

Earlier, Blair discussed the bill with embattled Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) at the mansion of former British governors and said he believed Hong Kong and China were committed to resolving the territory's biggest political crisis in years.

"Our position has consistently been that we hope that Hong Kong will make early progress towards the Basic Law's ultimate aim of election of the chief executive and all members of the legislature council by universal suffrage," Blair said in a luncheon speech, referring to Hong Kong's constitution.

"Hong Kong, if it handles the next few years well, can also be an example of how political progress can be made without damaging essential stability," he said.

Blair left Hong Kong a day ahead of schedule because of Typhoon Imbudo.

He set out on his Asian trip eager to tackle the North Korean nuclear crisis, meet China's new leaders and build trade ties in the Asia-Pacific.

In his speech yesterday, Blair stressed the need to fight international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and reaffirmed a commitment to rebuilding Iraq.

"This is the message from Washington, it is the view of Tokyo, it is confirmed by Seoul and underlined by Beijing," he said, looking worn out as he delivered the speech without his customary energy.

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