Hong Kong clash likely

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CONFRONTATION seems certain between Britain and China over the future of Hong Kong, less than four years before the colony is handed over to Chinese control, after talks on the democracy plans of the Governor, Chris Patten, broke up yesterday without result, writes Raymond Whitaker.

Although neither side was prepared to confirm that the process was at an end, no date was set for another meeting. Britain's chief negotiator, Christopher Hum, said he had proposed a further round of talks, but for London and Peking the main priority now appears to be attempting to shift blame for the breakdown of negotiations on to the other side.

'I think it must be the end of the road. I can't see anywhere else they're going,' said Peter Harris, a former professor of politics at Hong Kong University.

Mr Hum said he would be returning to London today to consult ministers. While a slight possibility remains that an attempt may be made to break the deadlock, the most likely outcome is that Mr Patten will press ahead with some form of his democracy proposals, which brought an outraged reaction from China when they were announced a year ago. Sources in Hong Kong have suggested that he will present legislation as early as next week.

The essence of the Governor's programme is to widen the franchise radically for the three elections due to take place in Hong Kong before 1997. Most of the controversy centres on the 1995 poll for the 60-member Legislative Council (Legco), the colony's main representative body, whose term of office is due to continue until 1999, two years after the handover.

In an attempt to unblock the negotiations, Britain and China agreed to deal with less contentious issues first, but in the end they could not even agree what those were.