Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Beijing rejects HK calls for democracy

AP , HONG KONG

Rejecting the demands of Hong Kong people who staged a massive pro-democracy march, China said yesterday it will stick by its earlier decision ruling out the direct election of the territory's next leader.

A key mainland official in Hong Kong said China's top legislative panel had made its position clear when it said in April that Hong Kong people cannot democratically choose the successor to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008.

Hong Kong people staged a massive, peaceful pro-democracy march on Thursday, with many holding out hopes that Beijing would change its mind and move more swiftly on political reforms. Organizers said 530,000 people turned out, while police put the figure at 200,000.

But a mainland official told reporters yesterday that Beijing won't bend to the "irrational" wishes of the demonstrators.

"The National People's Congress had made a final decision," said Li Gang, deputy head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong. "As the top judicial authority, its decisions cannot be changed, so to try to attempt something that's impossible is irrational."

Former British colony Hong Kong has enjoyed Western-style civil liberties since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997, but only limited democracy.

Tung was picked by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing. Voters will choose 30 of 60 lawmakers in September elections, with the remaining seats to be filled by special interest groups such as business executives, doctors and bankers.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government are worried that the pro-democracy sentiment sweeping through the territory will spell bad news for Tung's legislative allies.

They fear they could end up with a Legislative Council that won't back Tung.

The pro-democracy march came on the anniversary of a rally by 500,000 Hong Kong people angered by Tung's plans last year to pass an anti-subversion bill that many viewed as a threat to freedoms.

Stunned by the turnout, Tung withdrew the measure, and locals then began setting their sights on full democracy.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, sets out universal suffrage as an eventual goal, but there is no timetable specified.

In an effort at conciliation, Tung plans to meet soon with pro-democracy lawmakers.

Opposition legislator Emily Lau said yesterday that the pro-democracy camp will ask Tung to lobby China for quicker political reforms.

Following Thursday's march, Tung said he understood people's aspirations, but insisted any reforms must be "gradual and orderly" and go along with China's ruling.

Lau charged that Tung has not given an adequate response to the people's will.

"Tung didn't hear the citizens' views at all," she said. "He has let our citizens down."

Another pro-democracy legislator, James To, expressed doubts about whether Tung has much clout with Beijing.

"Tung carries very little weight on this matter," To said. "He's pretty much a puppet."

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