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Hong Kong handover demonstrations keep new leader, activists at odds

June 22, 1997

HONG KONG (AP) _ Hong Kong’s future leader found common ground with democracy forces Sunday _ in delight at colonial rule’s imminent end. But the divisive topic of demonstrations the night of the handover kept them at odds.

Tung Chee-hwa, who becomes Hong Kong’s chief executive when the colony reverts to Chinese sovereignty July 1, lauded the handover and said the new government will allow peaceful, quiet and lawful protests on changeover night.

He drew considerable anger from anti-Beijing groups, though, by saying a new law giving police more powers to stop demonstrations will take effect at midnight June 30. A China-backed legislature is not expected to actually pass it until several hours after the change of sovereignty.

``There will be people who want to express their views in different ways through demonstrations,″ Tung said Sunday. ``So long as they are lawful, so long as they are quiet and peaceful ... they will be fine.″

The new demonstrations law allows police to ban protests on ``national security″ grounds, a phrase the territory’s lawyers have criticized as open to abuse.

Sunday’s disagreement came after Hong Kong’s future justice minister, Elsie Leung, reportedly said July 1 protesters could be prosecuted if they have not notified police in advance.

She said the new law, expected to pass around 3 a.m. July 1, would be retroactive to midnight, the Sunday Morning Post reported.

``If someone deliberately makes use of the few hours of legal vacuum, I don’t think they should complain about the law having retrospective effect,″ Leung was quoted as saying.

The Frontier, a coalition of five independent pro-democracy legislators, said its members planned to demonstrate, notifying police of their plans as they always have.

``We don’t recognize the new law,″ Frontier legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said. And Frontier leader Emily Lau said Tung ``should know very well that there will be demonstrations.″

Frontier members will lose their seats July 1 when the current legislature is replaced by the Beijing-backed provisional one.

Lau’s coalition, which plans to field candidates in future legislative elections, nonetheless called the end of 156 years of British rule an occasion to rejoice.

China has promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, with its capitalist system and most freedoms basically unchanged. But the Beijing-backed provisional legislature passed laws earlier this month that curtail some civil liberties.

Pro-democracy groups opposed to the unelected legislature include the Democrats, Hong Kong’s most popular political party. Their leader, Martin Lee, vowed Sunday to ``continue speaking out″ after July 1.

``If we voluntarily give up some of our rights and freedoms, we have no one but ourselves to blame, ″ Lee said in a radio broadcast.

The Democrats, big winners in Hong Kong’s 1995 elections with 19 seats, are the largest party in the current 60-member legislature, which will be replaced on July 1.

They will have no seats in the unelected legislature; they regard it as undemocratic and illegal and refuse to participate. The body, composed of people considered sympathetic to Beijing, was set up because China disagreed with reforms that made the 1995 elections more democratic.

In other developments Sunday:

_Migrants from China, corruption and crime _ not curbs on personal or media freedom _ most worried Hong Kong people questioned for a poll. The Time magazine-CNN poll, conducted from June 13 to 17, had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

_Eleven pro-democracy activists staged a four-hour sit-in outside the Xinhua News Agency, China’s de facto embassy in Hong Kong. They demanded all dissidents in China be released and that future delegates from Hong Kong to China’s national legislature be directly elected.

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