Blair welcomes security U-turn by Hong Kong

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Tony Blair has welcomed the decision by the leader of Hong Kong to withdraw an anti-subversion bill after huge protests, saying it shows the former colony can handle such disputes without breaking down.

The measure has been put on hold, but yesterday officials told Hong Kong politicians that they would present a new proposal in September.

Winding up his Asian tour after meeting Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, Mr Blair said: "The authorities here are very much listening to what people are saying, and everyone wants to move forward in a way where we maintain the essential stability that is a crucial part of the success of Hong Kong."

The Prime Minister was treading a fine line between the concerns of those who view the measure as a threat to freedom, and the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong that see it as essential for stability.

None the less, the opposition politician Emily Lau accused Mr Blair of going too soft on Hong Kong's administration. She said he had cancelled a meeting with legislators yet found time to spend with the territory's richest man, the billionaire tycoon Li Ka-shing.

Anger over the bill sparked a protest rally by 500,000 people on 1 July, stunning Mr Tung and throwing his government into an unprecedented reversal, which raised fears about China's reaction. Beijing's new leaders later backed Mr Tung after he promised to listen more carefully to the public.

Mr Blair said: "The disagreement has given rise to much speculation that it represents a crisis for the system. Actually, it indicates that despite difficulty there is sufficient flexibility in the system to allow a disagreement to surface and be overcome."

He noted that leaders in Beijing had taken account of the controversy without overreacting to the huge rally. (AP)