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Honk kong protests anti subversion law { July 1 2003 }

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Hong Kong Protests Anti-Subversion Law

Tuesday July 1, 2003 12:19 PM


Associated Press Writer

HONG KONG (AP) - Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched Tuesday to protest a planned anti-subversion law - a demonstration that overshadowed the sixth anniversary of Britain's handover of the territory to China.

Hong Kong's national security law, expected to be passed in a few days, will outlaw sedition and other crimes against the state, giving police more powers and imposing life sentences for offenses. Opponents say the law will undermine freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

``This will push Hong Kong toward an era of tyranny,'' said W.C. Mak, a 74-year-old retired nurse. She said that the last time she protested was in June 1989, after Chinese troops crushed a student pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

Critics fear the law will bring mainland-style suppression of dissent in Hong Kong. The government insists that is not a concern and constitutionally protected liberties will not be harmed.

``We love Hong Kong,'' said protest organizer Richard Tsoi. ``We love each person here. That's why we feel responsible for the next generation as well as future generations in fighting for our rights.''

Tsoi had predicted a turnout of 100,000, but the turnout was impossible to count. There were clearly tens of thousands of people, clad in black and waving signs as they packed a city park and surrounding streets.

The protest overshadowed Tuesday's official commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the territory's handover from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

A uniformed band played patriotic music and helicopters pulled the Chinese and Hong Kong flags through the sky as government leaders, including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, stood at attention.

Activists outside torched the flag of the Chinese Communist Party, demanding an end to its monopoly on power in the mainland and scuffling with police.

Wen told an audience of political and business elites that Beijing would honor its pledge to allow Hong Kong considerable autonomy to preserve its ``unique position and irreplaceable role'' within China and the global economy.

Wen was later asked about the anti-subversion bill and said it ``absolutely will not affect the different rights and freedoms Hong Kong people - including reporters - enjoy under the law.''

Wen left Hong Kong before the protest march.

Vincent Lui, a 35-year-old engineer who said he had never protested before, turned out with his wife and two children, holding a black flag that said: ``We are angry.''

Ever since Hong Kong was returned to China, Article 23 of the territory's mini-constitution has required passage of an anti-subversion law. Critics accuse officials of going way too far.

Many critics believe Hong Kong will use the law to ban Falun Gong, the meditation group outlawed in mainland China as an ``evil cult.'' Beijing is trying to eradicate Falun Gong in the mainland, but the group remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently demonstrates here.

Religious groups, human rights activists and journalists fear their activities will be curtailed. Some business executives also worry about the free flow of information - viewed as crucial in this leading financial and market center.

Tung last week called the anti-subversion law necessary now that Hong Kong is part of China.

``We have to make sure that we are patriotic. We have to maintain the fundamental interests of our nation,'' Tung said. ``National security is something we cannot trifle with.''

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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