Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Pro-China elements slam `show'

STYMIED REFORMS Critics of the latest pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong said the whole affair was a destabilizing stunt angling for support for elections in September


Beijing's allies reacted angrily yesterday to a massive pro-democracy rally in the territory, calling it a "show" stirred up by troublemakers who are threatening Hong Kong's stability.

As many as 20,000 people marched peacefully on Sunday to demand that Beijing reverse a ruling last week that any political reforms in Hong Kong must receive advance approval from the central government.

"The protesters oppose for the sake of opposition," said Ma Lik (馬力), a local delegate to China's National People's Congress.

Censors in China cut the signal of CNN's news programming early yesterday when it aired a story on the march. Pro-Beijing newspapers and politicians in Hong Kong accused pro-democracy figures of instigating the protest to try to gain an advantage in coming legislative elections.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress ruled that Hong Kong must gain Beijing's permission before seeking any reforms in the way its leader and lawmakers are selected. Beijing called its ruling legal and essential to the guidelines for Hong Kong's political reforms.

Critics say China violated Hong Kong's promised autonomy through the binding "interpretation" of the mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Thousands of people marched Sunday to China's liaison office, demanding full democracy and calling for the resignation of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).

Frustrated by what they see as a government stalling on democracy, Hong Kong's ordinary citizens, who have no say in picking their leader, now think they can only take their complaints onto the street.

But Beijing supporters called that view nonsense.

"They should take part in active discussions on Hong Kong's political reforms instead of staging shows that divide society and harm investors' confidence in the economy," said Ma, who also chairs the territory's top pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.

Another pro-Beijing lawmaker, Ip Kwok-him (葉國謙), said the demonstrators had shown they were ignorant of Hong Kong's constitution as well as last week's ruling.

"They don't really understand the Basic Law," Ip said. "They should study it more carefully."

Pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong charged that the demonstrators were manipulated by opposition politicians in the run-up to the September elections for the territory's legislature.

Hong Kong residents will directly elect 30 of the 60 Legislative Council seats, up from 24 four years ago.

The rest are chosen by special interest groups that tend to be pro-Beijing, but the governments in Hong Kong and China fear they could end up with a legislature that won't back Tung.

"A small group of people are trying to use the public's worries about the interpretation to get more votes," said pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po. "They find all kinds of excuses to incite demonstrations."

Hong Kong's disparate pro-democracy groups were urged yesterday to unite in a last-ditch push for a change in the law to allow the former British colony to elect its own leaders.

The Democratic Party, the leading force in the city's democracy movement, has invited reform-minded legislators from other parties to a meeting to plan their next move.

They will also call on Tung to hear their concerns in a head-to-head debate in the Legislative Council.

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