Wed, Jun 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

China wants HK to unite


China's vice president called on Hong Kong citizens to unite and focus on the territory's economic recovery ahead of a mass rally to demand direct elections in the former British colony.

About 300,000 people are expected to take to the streets on July 1, the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule, to demand universal suffrage.

Many people are outraged by Beijing's April ruling that Hong Kong may not hold direct elections for its next leader in 2007 and all lawmakers in 2008 despite growing calls for full democracy.

Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong said "we most definitely cannot be polarized. We must unite. We must unite. We must have a fighting spirit. Hong Kong has many economic advantages."

He said the territory's economic troubles means locals must be even more "self-improving and hardworking." Hong Kong has been battling deflation and unemployment.

On the July 1 march, Zeng said, "there are various forms of expression, but whatever the form ... it must be good for Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."

Zeng's remarks, broadcast on television Tuesday, were made to Hong Kong reporters Monday during an official visit to the northern African nation of Tunisia.

In a major embarrassment for Beijing, 500,000 people marched last July 1 and forced the government to back down on an anti-subversion bill viewed by many as a threat to freedom.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials want to avoid a repeat of the mass march. Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa met with pro-democracy legislators and lawyers last week in an apparent attempt to soothe lingering public outrage over China's decision to delay democratization here.

Under Chinese rule, Hong Kong enjoys Western-style freedoms denied in the mainland, but it remains only partially democratic.

Tung was picked by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing. Voters will choose 30 lawmakers in September polls. Special interest groups such as doctors and lawyers will pick the remaining 30.

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