Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pro-Beijing HK leader backs off

UNUSUAL SUPPORT The SAR's richest man, Li Ka-shing, said Hong Kong should be proud of the 500,000-strong July 1 march against the controversial anti-subversion bill

AP , HONG KONG

The leader of the largest pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong has urged the territory to further delay a hugely unpopular anti-subversion bill until after elections next year, backpedalling from his earlier calls to speed up the legislation.

Analysts said yesterday that Jasper Tsang's (曾鈺成) sudden change of heart was prompted by fears that his party may lose votes to the pro-democracy camp, which gained popularity after massive protests against the legislation last month.

Tsang, head of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, had previously insisted that the measure, which would outlaw treason, sedition and subversion, be passed as scheduled last month.

Critics say the law undermines freedoms of speech, press and assembly, and the government was forced to delay the bill as it failed to garner enough legislative support after half a million people marched in protest of it on July 1.

The march threw the government into crisis, and two key Cabinet ministers later resigned, including the security secretary who spearheaded the drive to pass the bill.

In a signed commentary of the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao on Thursday, Tsang argued that lawmakers won't have enough time to review the bill before the Legislative Council's term ends next year.

Tsang's party is pro-China and typically supports Hong Kong's government on legislative matters. It was not clear whether his comments would sway the administration.

Political commentators noted Tsang switched his stance ahead of district council elections in November and the legislative council polls next August or September. His party already suffered a drop in popularity because of its aggressive push for the security bill.

"Both Beijing and its allies here would not want to see a Legislative Council dominated by pro-democracy lawmakers," said political scientist Li Pang-kwong of Lingnan University.

"It will have tremendous impact on the whole political landscape," Li said.

The government has not set a new timetable for the legislation -- constitutionally required since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 -- but a new draft of the law will be unveiled next month.

Meanwhile, Tycoon Li Ka-shing (李嘉誠) has said Hong Kong should be proud of the July 1 rally by half a million people, which was called to protest against a move to pass controversial anti-subversion laws.

Li, Asia's richest man, told local media after announcing the interim results of his flagship firms Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa late Thursday, that he was impressed by the size of the march.

"My feeling [about the march] is very good," he said, noting that it was carried out in "good order."

"There should be more opinions. And in modern society, we should be listening to each other's opinions," Li said.

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