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Patten ridicules Hong Kong turncoats

Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, has decided to get personal - really personal - when attacking those who have abandoned what he regards as their previous principles and joined Chinese-appointed bodies.

Having previously tried gentle persuasion, punctuated by occasional eruptions of anger, Mr Patten now appears to have opted for a strategy of all-out attack in the dying days of his governorship.

Transforming the normally staid and rarely humourous, chamber of the colony's Legislative Council into an approximation of the House of Commons on one of the roughest days at the dispatch box, Mr Patten yesterday picked off the former members of the Governor's cabinet and others who are now supporting China's plans to change civil rights legislation, primarily the Bill of Rights.

Digging into the archives, he quoted from speeches they had made in their previous capacities supporting the Bill of Rights and warning of attacks on civil liberties. He quoted Maria Tam, a former cabinet member, now a stalwart of the new order, as saying in 1991 that she believed the Bill of Rights to be "a proper arrangement in safeguarding the rights of those who live in this territory now and in the years to come'.

And Paul Cheng, a leading business representative who has taken to mounting personal attacks on the Governor, looked sheepish as Mr Patten dragged out a speech he made in 1990 describing the Bill as strengthening "the foundations of the existing legal system by giving due recognition to the civil and political rights of our citizenry".

Yesterday's performance by Mr Patten represented his most public demonstration of anger against leading members of Hong Kong's elite whom he believes have done nothing to protect the colony's civil liberties. "These are the people", one of his officials said, "who have gone from a garden party at Buckingham Palace to a banquet at the Great Hall of the People [in Peking] without dropping into Damascus to announce their conversion".

The Governor even turned on Andrew Wong, the President of the Legislative Council, who was sitting next to him, and will tomorrow attempt to secure the presidency of the rival, Chinese-appointed, provisional legislature when it holds its first meeting across the border in Shenzhen. Mr Patten dismissively described this body as the "Shenzhen debating society".

Asked how he felt about sitting next to Mr Wong, he said, "I am a man of legendary charity", adding: "Everybody has to justify their actions, everybody has to be at ease with their conscience". Listening, the hard- smoking and hard-drinking Mr Wong cheerfully declared that he, too, was a man of legendary charity.

Mr Patten said that the rival body would create a "terrible legal muddle" and warned that the incoming government would spend its early days fighting legal battles to sort out the chaos created by having to cope with laws enacted by a provisional body while the legally constituted legislature was still in being.

Although Mr Patten had even his enemies laughing as he deployed his sharpest irony to put them down, there was no mistaking the feeling that he was also burning all bridges in a final attempt to prevent China from turning the clock back on a number of democratic and civil rights reforms.

Kerry McGlynn, the Governor's spokesman, denied that he was becoming too personal. "He's trying to make the point that there's something the people of Hong Kong can do. He's trying to put the heat on members of the Preparatory Committee [which is advising China on law changes] to get this reversed," Mr McGlynn explained.

Communications between the Governor and Chinese officials have broken down. His most senior civil servants are anxious about their future under the new regime and spending more time listening to Tung Chee-hwa, the new head of government.

They know that close association with Mr Patten will not be considered as a path to career advancement.