Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Beijing invites HK activists to military parade


In a gesture of "goodwill" toward Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers, China has for the first time invited them to a military parade in Beijing, and an opposition political leader said yesterday that some will attend.

Democratic Party Chairman Yeung Sum said some colleagues will "definitely go" to the Aug. 1 parade commemorating the 77th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army.

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed mainland official as saying the parade could "help enhance the close relationship between the army and the Hong Kong people."

But Yeung played down expectations for any breakthroughs.

China has long viewed the pro-democracy politicians as troublemakers and it has had little to do with them, so the invitation could be seen as a genuine overture, but one with a twist.

China's use of PLA troops to crush the student pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 alarmed Hong Kong. Local opposition figures hold annual vigils reminding Hong Kong people about the deadly crackdown, and the democrats might appear somewhat out of place watching the PLA march past amid a sea of red flags.

Yeung called the invitation a "good beginning" but said substantive talks would be more important.

"This is after all a ceremony and not real communication," Yeung told reporters. "We hope we can sit down with Chinese officials to discuss what Hong Kong people really care about."

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers marched July 1 to demand full democracy -- venting outrage at Beijing for ruling in April that rank-and-file voters cannot directly elect Hong Kong's next leader in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008.

Voters get to choose 30 of 60 legislative seats in September, however, and they are expected to hand a big victory to the pro-democracy camp.

Beijing has recently made a series of conciliatory gestures to try to blunt the impact.

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