Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 5 News List

HK poll meddling `impossible'

GROWING CONCERN Increasing numbers of Hong Kong people are concerned about Beijing interfering with September's legislative elections, fears dismissed by officials

REUTERS , HONG KONG

China's top envoy in Hong Kong has pledged that Beijing will not intervene in key elections in which pro-democracy activists are trying to win control of the territory's legislature, a newspaper said yesterday.

Concerns that Beijing will meddle in the elections have been growing for months despite China's pledge that Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

"That is impossible," Yang Wenchang (楊文昌), commissioner of China's Foreign Ministry office in the territory, told the Ming Pao daily.

More than one-third of Hong Kong people expect China to intervene in elections for the Legislative Council, a new survey showed.

About 38 percent of more than 1,000 respondents said they thought Beijing would become involved. The poll was conducted by independent think tank Civic Exchange and the University of Hong Kong.

However, 44 percent of the respondents said they did not think Beijing would intervene.

In recent months, three popular Hong Kong radio broadcasters often critical of China resigned in quick succession. Two said they had received death threats and a third reported veiled threats from a Chinese official, adding to concerns that Beijing was increasingly suppressing freedom of speech.

Some Hong Kong residents have also reportedly received mysterious calls from China warning them to vote for pro-Beijing candidates or face trouble.

Beijing fears that it could lose control of Hong Kong if the pro-democracy forces win a majority in the legislature in September and derail policies proposed by the China-backed government.

Yesterday, China's mouthpieces stepped up their attacks against Hong Kong democracy forces.

The Hong Kong edition of the China Daily sharply criticized protesters who took to the streets last week shouting "Return power to the people," a slogan which Beijing views as a rallying cry for independence.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined the protest on Thursday last week to vent their frustration at Chinese rule and challenge Beijing's refusal to allow them to elect their own leaders.

In April, China ruled out popular elections for Hong Kong's local leader in 2007 and all of its lawmakers in 2008, even though that possibility was allowed under its mini constitution.

Hong Kong's chief executive is now hand-picked by Beijing and only half of the 60 seats in the legislature are returned by direct election. The rest are filled by professional groups who are typically pro-government.

Beijing has shown increasing impatience with pro-democracy activists since the march, despite efforts by some members of both sides to bring tensions off the boil.

Still, political analysts say China's criticism of pro-democracy forces is notably milder and Bei-jing is softening its stance to avoid antagonizing voters before the elections.

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