Sun, Sep 25, 2005 - Page 4 News List

HK legislators get a free trip `home'

BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY In an attempt to impress rebel and pro-democracy legislators from the territory, China is treating them to a two-day tour of Guangzhou

AP , HONG KONG

Hong Kong legislators typically reviled in Beijing have stuck by their pro-democracy views ahead of a rare tour of China starting today, as the pro-China media expressed hope that the trip would soften their impression of their home country.

Hong Kong lawmakers -- including some who were previously banned in the mainland -- are gearing up for an official trip to Guangzhou, viewed as a goodwill gesture from China.

But opposition figures reiterated the pro-democracy positions that first ran them afoul of Beijing ahead of the trip. The Democratic Party, whose former chairman Martin Lee (李柱銘) has been branded a "traitor" by Beijing, wrote to Guangdong Communist Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang (張德江), who is a member of China's Politburo.

The party demanded direct elections for all political offices in Hong Kong by 2008. The territory's leader is picked by an 800-member committee and only half of the city's 60 legislators are elected. The rest are picked by interest groups.

The party also asked China to reverse its condemnation of pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, which the Chinese military crushed that June, killing hundreds.

But pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po said in an editorial yesterday it hoped witnessing China's progress will change the lawmakers' "prejudices."

All eyes are on whether radical legislator "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), a veteran street protester, will demonstrate in front of Chinese officials. Leung wasn't immediately available for comment. His office said yesterday he was due to return to Hong Kong from abroad later in the day.

Democratic Party Chairman Lee Wing-tat (李永達) yesterday praised the invitation to visit China as a positive step but said he held modest expectations because of a crammed schedule.

While the legislators are scheduled to meet with Guangdong officials and dine with them, the two-day itinerary is dominated by sightseeing and company visits. The lawmakers are scheduled to hit three cities in one day: Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou.

"There won't be a lot of substantial results from two days, one night of visits. It's so rushed. But I hope afterward everyone will feel this communication is meaningful and continue it," Lee said.

Legislator Emily Lau (劉慧卿), who hasn't been able to renew her China travel document since the mid-1990s, complained that the banned lawmakers apparently were only getting one-time clearance to visit China.

In another issue clouding the trip, Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper hasn't been able to obtain permission to cover the lawmaker tour. The Hong Kong government said it had no immediate comment.

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