THOUSANDS MARCH IN HONG KONG


2004.04.12
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HONG KONG�Thousands of people have marched in Hong Kong to protest Chinese moves to �interpret� their mini-constitution and check the pace of democratic reform in the territory, RFA�s Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

Around 15,000 demonstrators, some of whom chanted slogans calling on Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to step down, marched from Hong Kong Island�s central district to Beijing�s Liaison Office in the western part of the city on Sunday.

Many thousands more are thought to have joined the initial rally, at which patriotic Chinese songs were sung. Many waved banners or balloons with Tung�s face on them.

Local media said the march tuned ugly when police tried to stop protesters from passing in front of the Liaison Office, but the demonstrators were later allowed to hand in a petition at the office.

�We have to protest against the interpretation of the Basic Law because... it amounts to amending the Basic Law without the consultation of people in Hong Kong,� Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum told reporters.

�I think the NPC [National People�s Congress] should not go on to interpret the Basic Law again. They should leave it to the people of Hong Kong, or leave it to the court in Hong Kong to interpret the law, which involves internal affairs under a high degree of autonomy,� Yeung said.

The march came in response to China�s ruling last week that it holds the ultimate power to set a timetable for electoral reform and can on any changes in how Hong Kong�s leader and legislators are elected.

Protesters called for the ruling to be reversed and for an immediate �fair and open� public consultation on universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, the earliest dates provided for in the territory�s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

�We are here today to be the witness of history,� said organizer Rose Wu. �We have to tell the world how the central government forces its imperious measures onto us Hong Kong people, destroying the �one Country, two systems� model, eroding the high degree of autonomy, and taking away the democracy we deserve.�

�We want them to know they�ve made a very big mistake,� Wu said.

A top Chinese parliamentarian said last week that Beijing can intervene to amend and interpret the Basic Law, and he refused to rule out doing so again in the future. �We have this power... that�s why we can�t promise never to interpret the Basic Law in the future,� Qiao Xiaoyang, a senior member of China�s parliament, told a public forum in Hong Kong on Thursday.

�If the NPC interprets the law again, we hope you�ll all take it easy,� said Qiao.

The NPC Standing Committee passed a review of the Basic Law in which it required the Hong Kong government to seek Beijing�s approval before initiating any process that could lead to changes in the voting system.

Legal experts say the move, which followed mounting calls in the territory over the timing of eventual full and direct elections, takes the right to initiate change away from Hong Kong, locating it firmly in the hands of the central government in Beijing.

Under the terms of its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy over its internal affairs, with only matters of foreign policy and national security to be dictated by Beijing.

Beijing produced the interpretation with scant warning and no consultation with anyone in Hong Kong. Qiao further fueled fears when he announced at a news conference in Beijing last week: �A locality has no fixed power. All powers of the locality derive from the authorization of the central authorities.� #####

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