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HONG KONG: Chinese PM visit sparks pro-democracy protests

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  • Andy
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2007
      Protesters try to reach Hu in Hong Kong

      By James Pomfret

      HONG KONG (Reuters) - Rights activists planned to try to give a letter urging a reassessment of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown to China President Hu Jintao on Saturday as he visited Hong Kong for the 10th anniversary of its return to China.

      Hu landed in the former British colony on Friday and the normally buttoned-down leader has been on a charm offensive to try to win over Hong Kong's citizens, many of whom have been calling for direct elections in the city in 2012.

      Security around Hu has been tight, and an organiser of the group planning to march to Hu's hotel with the petition said it was unclear how close they might get. The letter also calls for political prisoners to be freed.

      Lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, known for his colourful and often raucous protests, said he planned to try to get into a banquet at Hu's hotel later to protest.

      Chinese troops killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people on the night of June 3-4, 1989, when they advanced into central Beijing to forcibly clear student-led pro-democracy protesters from Tiananmen Square.

      The government maintains force was necessary to quell a "counter-revolutionary rebellion".

      Earlier on Saturday, Hu met with former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, who was strongly criticised for his weak governance.

      Hu also donned a green "Mao suit" and inspected army troops stationed in the city of nearly seven million people.

      In public comments Hu has been bullish about Hong Kong's future, though at a Friday dinner hosted by its Chief Executive Donald Tsang he urged the city's leaders to heed the public more.

      "(I) hope everybody can faithfully fulfil a principle of governance that places the people first," Hu told guests.


      "Get close to the people's hearts, understand public opinion, and strive to provide a high-quality service to the people.

      Hu did not mention how the city might reconcile growing calls by the public and a vocal pro-democracy camp in the city's legislature for direct elections.

      Hong Kong's post-handover constitution says universal suffrage is the ultimate goal, but is vague on a timetable, giving Beijing scope to dictate the pace of reform. Beijing's parliament has ruled out direct elections until at least 2012.

      Amnesty International said in a Friday report that public fears of a significant deterioration in human rights in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover "have not been borne out".

      However, it added, "the authorities have missed several key opportunities to take concrete steps to enhance protection of the basic human rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong over the last 10 years.

      Elsewhere, members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned on the mainland and branded an "evil cult", staged a sit-in protest in front of the Chinese central government's offices in Hong Kong.

      The group says more than 140 members from Taiwan were blocked from entering Hong Kong in recent days. Hong Kong's immigration department has declined to comment directly, but said it had the right to decide who enters the territory.

      Hu dispensed with suit and tie on Friday, meeting families in their homes and presenting them with gifts. He even played an impromptu game of table tennis with a 13-year-old boy.

      On Saturday night, he planned to attend a pop gala and a bell ringing ceremony to mark the minute Britain returned Hong Kong to China after 156 years as a colony.

      At the same time, pro-democracy lawmakers plan to re-enact a protest many staged a decade ago on the balcony of the city's legislative council building, calling for universal suffrage.

      On Sunday, Hu will swear in Hong Kong leader Tsang and his cabinet to a new five-year term.

      Pro-democracy legislators and other activists plan an annual protest march on Sunday and a Hong Kong pollster predicted up to 60,000 people could turn out, the South China Morning Post reported. Hu will likely be gone by then.

      (Additional reporting by John Ruwitch)

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