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Hong Kong Withdraws Disputed Legislation

September 05, 2003|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

HONG KONG — Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa today announced that the government would withdraw a controversial anti-subversion bill that pro-democracy political forces in the territory bitterly opposed as a threat to freedom of speech.

Tung made his announcement at a hastily arranged midday news conference, stating that he decided to withdraw the bill because "the Hong Kong community continues to have some doubts and concerns."

He told reporters that it was more important for the government now to focus on reviving Hong Kong's economy than to try to push through such a contentious piece of legislation.

He said the government had no timetable for introducing a new version of the bill.

Tung said he had assigned Hong Kong Security Secretary Ambrose Lee to form a task force to evaluate proposals for anti-subversion legislation and relaunch a broad consultation with the public on the issue.

The withdrawal amounts to a stunning and largely unexpected victory for pro-democracy activists and a humiliating defeat for the Hong Kong government. Over a period of weeks in July, Tung watched what most observers believed was a rock-solid majority in the territory's legislative council break apart under the pressure of public opposition.

On July 1, nearly 10% of Hong Kong's estimated 7 million people took to the streets to protest against the bill in the largest demonstration in China since the pro-democracy movement was crushed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square 14 years ago.

Within days, Security Secretary Regina Ip announced her resignation, and before the month was out Tung said the bill would be delayed.

Until today, however, his government had indicated that it might still try to reintroduce and pass the bill before the end of the current legislature's term next summer.

Tung's government was required by the territory's constitution to pass such a law, but the speed and nature with which he pursued it stoked concern that it would be used to suppress basic rights in the territory, which has many democratic freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

Although Hong Kong residents widely believed that the legislation had Beijing's strong support, public anger was directed almost exclusively at the Tung government, and therefore protests against the bill were never viewed as a direct challenge to Beijing.

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