MORE DEMOCRACY PROTESTS LIKELY IN HONG KONG


2004-01-05
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Organizers, analysts, say political momentum for reform is growing

Pro-democracy campaigners and political commentators alike said Hong Kong would soon see more pro-democracy demonstrations if the government made no response to popular demands for full democracy in the territory, RFA's Cantonese service reports.

Hong Kong's government has so far made no substantive reply to the demands of the estimated 100,000 protesters, who marched on New Year's Day, calling for the post of Chief Executive, and all 60 seats in the territory's legislature, to be elected by popular ballot.

When asked by an RFA reporter Friday for his reaction to the New Year's Day demonstration in which an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets to demand full democracy for the territory, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa replied "Good morning," but made no further comment.

Meanwhile, Richard Tsoi, a spokesman for the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the rally, said that more protests would follow if the government failed to respond to public demands, starting with Tung's Policy Address next Wednesday.

The government issued a statement Thursday saying it would listen carefully to the protesters' aspirations and pledged to start consultations on democratic reforms soon, without specifying when.

Political commentators identified a growing momentum behind calls for full democracy.

"If the government doesn't carry out proper consultation work regarding constitutional reform, the political impetus will gather for further protests and demonstrations," Kuan Hsin-chih, political science professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told RFA's Cantonese service.

"This situation will give strong cause for concern," Kuan warned.

Tens of thousands of people marched from Victoria Park to government headquarters in the Central business district on Jan. 1, amid shouts of "Power to the people" and demands for direct elections for the city's rulers.

Protesters dispersed peacefully after arriving at government offices, some of them tying yellow ribbons around the railings outside the government compound.

The demonstration came exactly six months after half a million people took to the streets to protest against an anti-subversion bill proposed by the Hong Kong government and backed by Beijing.

"We have made history again!" rally spokesman Richard Tsoi said, adding that the march showed that Hong Kong's "people power" movement hadn't faded away. "It clearly shows that Hong Kong people still have a very strong desire for full democracy," he said.

"We want full democracy�the right to elect our own chief executive and all members of the Legislative Council," Tsoi said. "It is important for Hong Kong people to stand up and voice their demands strongly and clearly."

A government spokesman said in a statement the administration would "listen carefully" to the views and aspirations of the public. "It is the clear duty of the government to pursue democratic advancement in accordance with the Basic Law. The government will use the three years to address the issues of constitutional development after 2007. We will start listening and collecting public views as soon as possible," he said.

Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are demanding that the government and Beijing commit to a firm timetable for implementing political reforms, including direct elections of Hong Kong's next leader by 2007.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has pledged to start discussions on constitutional change early this year. Tung, who was chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee, presides over a legislature in which only 30 of the 60 seats are directly elected by popular ballot.

Direct elections for the chief executive are not scheduled to be held before 2007 under Hong Kong's post-1997 constitution, with elections for currently unelected seats in the legislative council to follow a year later.

Chinese president Hu Jintao said last month that political reforms should be carried out gradually and in accordance with the Basic Law�the city's mini-constitution.

China's leaders were surprised and shocked by the strength of popular anger against Tung, and gave their blessing for him to withdraw controversial national security legislation following the demonstrations on the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, on July 1, 2003.

Protesters feared the bill would erode civil liberties and media freedom, long a hallmark of political life in Hong Kong. Many marchers called for Tung's resignation, and two members of his cabinet resigned following the demonstrations. #####

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