Thu, Oct 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

`Longhair' swears in with radical flair


The new Hong Kong legislature was sworn in yesterday in a ceremony disrupted by outbursts from a radical activist who won office and shouted slogans before and after taking his oath.

"Long live democracy! Long live the people!" Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄) yelled, his voice bellowing through the Legislative Council chamber in a preview of the troubles that unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) can expect during his last three years in office.

Pro-democracy opposition figures claimed three new seats in the Legislative Council, raising their total to 25 out of 60, although pro-Beijing and big business figures remain in control.

Leung, who is Hong Kong's top activist and popularly known as "Longhair," scored a stunning victory with tens of thousands of anti-government protest votes in the Sept. 12 election.

Leung had sought to change his oath to include pledges to fight for democracy, freedom and human rights. He had been warned -- first by legislative officials and then by a judge -- that he could not legally alter the wording.

Legislative Secretariat officials had said he could lose his seat if he refused to take the oath.

Leung, a firebrand protester since British colonial days, may have found a compromise that let him keep protesting while also following the rules.

He shouted slogans before delivering the oath in full, then raised his arm defiantly and began shouting again.

Hong Kong's political situation has been tense for months, with ordinary citizens marching by the hundreds of thousands in July to demand full democracy even though Beijing ruled in April they can't have it for now.

Just half of the lawmakers were directly elected and the rest were chosen by special interest groups, while Tung was picked by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Hong Kong lawmakers signed their names to a list after swearing their oaths, but Leung did not do so.

A leading pro-Beijing politician, Jasper Tsang (曾鈺成), quickly raised questions to the legislature's clerk about whether Leung's oath was legitimate without a signature. The clerk, Ricky Fung, replied that Leung had completed the oath-taking. Apparently no signature was required.

When Leung was called to be sworn, he stood and shouted, calling on China to atone for the killings in its crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in June 1989, to end its one-party rule and free political prisoners.

Leung said: "I declare here, loudly, I will be loyal to the Chinese people and Hong Kong citizens, oppose collusion between the government and the business sector, defend democracy and justice, fight for human rights and freedom."

Dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with more political statements, Leung's appearance stood in stark contrast to other legislators-elect who wore business suits and calmly uttered their oaths, some invoking the name of God as they promised to serve with integrity.

The T-shirt put Leung at odds with the legislature's dress code, but no objections were immediately raised.

Leung filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to make up his own oath, but a judge threw it out just hours before the swearing-in ceremony.

"The oath he intends to take will be unlawful and have no effect," High Court Judge Michael Hartmann said.

As soon as the lawmakers were installed, they re-elected pro-Beijing colleague Rita Fan (范徐麗泰) as the legislative president, who has sweeping powers over the day-to-day affairs of the body.

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