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Britain, U.S. criticized for acknowledging Hong Kong’s new legislature

June 26, 1997

HONG KONG (AP) _ Hong Kong democrats voiced fresh anger today over decisions by Britain and the United States to send envoys to the swearing-in of the new legislature set up by China.

When the British colony reverts to China at the stroke of midnight on Monday, Hong Kong’s elected legislature will be dismantled and replaced by an unelected provisional one.

Lawmaker Emily Lau, an outspoken democrat who is boycotting the new provisional body, called last-minute decisions this week by Washington and London to send consuls general to the swearing-in ``disgusting and contemptible.″

``They have demonstrated themselves to be very hypocritical and very unreliable,″ she said. ``It is really quite disgraceful to see them make this kind of U-turn just a few days before the takeover.″

Lau, an independent democrat and former journalist, has been the biggest vote-getter in two consecutive legislative elections.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are skipping the swearing-in to convey their disapproval of the new legislature.

Representation at the consular level, both governments suggested, is simply a show of courtesy to Hong Kong’s new government, which is being sworn in at the same time.

But editorials in Hong Kong newspapers disagreed.

``London and Washington have forfeited any right to the moral high ground which they like to claim,″ said the independent English-language South China Morning Post.

``Washington and London’s 180-degree about-turn has taught Hong Kong a profound lesson: ... We cannot expect foreign governments to watch out for Hong Kong’s interests,″ said the independent Chinese-language Ming Pao.

In the final five days until Hong Kong’s switchover to Chinese sovereignty, the pace of preparations quickened, from security sweeps to sound checks.

Most of Hong Kong’s 27,000-member police force is being mobilized to guard handover-related events. Police are checking manholes, deploying bomb-sniffing dogs and patrolling the waterfront.

Out on the fog-shrouded harbor, workers were setting up barges from which to launch a handover-night fireworks extravaganza. In a symbolic touch, it will be a joint effort between British and Chinese fireworks companies, the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

Harried organizers of a ceremonial banquet for 4,000 invited dignitaries including Prince Charles and Chinese President Jiang Zemin said they were fielding queries from guests worried that the rich menu _ including champagne, lobster and truffle risotto _ might cause them allergy problems.

``We can’t meet their specific requests, we can just offer that menu or the vegetarian menu,″ said Adeline Mann of the handover coordination office. ``It’s the best we can do.″

Despite the highly scripted nature of the handover, there could be surprises.

Democrats from the outgoing legislature are saying they want to make a valedictory speech from the balcony of the legislature after the midnight handover ceremonies. The new government has not given the go-ahead for that.

Democratic Party leader Martin Lee said earlier this week he’d clamber up a ladder to the building’s second-floor balcony if he was barred from the building after midnight.

And another lawmaker, Tsang Kin-shing _ nicknamed ``The Bull″ for his brusque manner _ said he’d spend the night inside the building if necessary, so he could let his colleagues in.

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