Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 4 News List

HK vigil leads to soul-searching

AP , HONG KONG

Thousands of people will gather in a Hong Kong park today to light candles and sing solemn songs as they remember the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing 17 years ago.

It's an annual tradition, the only such public vigil allowed in China marking the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, killings. But in recent months, there's been a new twist in how the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong deal with Tiananmen.

A new pro-democracy political group, the Civic Party, has been formed by several widely respected lawmakers who have decided not to mention Tiananmen in their party's mission statement.

In stark contrast, the bigger Democratic Party's platform condemns the "atrocity" and demands punishment for the officials who ordered the military crackdown.

Some have accused the Civic Party members of sacrificing their principles for the sake of better relations with communist rulers in Beijing. But the party's leaders argue they're just being practical and their revulsion and outrage about Tiananmen haven't changed.

"You don't have strong feelings about June 4 today, then lose those strong feelings when you join a political party," said Audrey Eu (余若薇), a lawmaker and Civic Party leader.

Hong Kongers can't directly elect their leader, who's chosen by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing. And they can only elect half of the 60-seat legislature. The other half is picked by groups representing professional sectors.

Like other pro-democracy parties, the Civic Party's manifesto calls for full democracy. But it's silent about Tiananmen.

Political scientist James Sung (宋立功) at the City University of Hong Kong said the Civic Party isn't bringing up Tiananmen because it wants to avoid the problems the more-established Democratic Party is having with Beijing. Chinese leaders have blacklisted many of the Democratic Party's leaders partly because of their outspoken, long-standing positions on the crackdown.

"They [Civic Party] want to have a better relationship, so they think that if they can leave out this hot issue, they can have a good relationship with Beijing," he said.

Sung said the party hopes to get more support from business.

"Many of the business sector people don't think political parties should insist that the June 4 incident be reviewed, and the Civic Party wants to please the business sector," he said.

But Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong (湯家驊) said his group wasn't trying to curry favor with Beijing and big business. He said Tiananmen was left out of the manifesto because it was beyond the scope of the party's interests.

"We take the view that the Tiananmen incident is a matter that transcends the local boundary. It's a national matter," Tong said. "The Civic Party is a local party and concentrates on local matters."

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