Tung vows to permit protests

Hong Kong handover: Pro-democracy groups welcome chief executive's nod towards tolerance, but remain sceptical

Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive designate of the incoming Hong Kong government, has vowed that a Tiananmen Square-type massacre will not happen in the territory because "I will not allow it to happen."

He said that in Hong Kong "we permit, sometimes we even encourage, demonstrations" and added that "demonstrations are part of our culture."

Mr Tung was speaking in an interview with America's ABC television station. His remarks were immediately welcomed in Hong Kong by leaders of the colony's pro-democracy parties and organisations yesterday but they questioned why he was telling an American audience that the right to demonstrate was guaranteed while at the same time preparing legislation which will curtail the rights of assembly, especially at short notice.

Cheung Man-kwong, a legislator and leader of the alliance supporting China's democracy movement, said he would feel more convinced by Mr Tung's remarks if he was not preparing laws which outlawed demonstrations violating "national security". Mr Cheung's organisation has been branded as "subversive" by China and would therefore be unable to function if Chinese criteria were applied in Hong Kong.

However Mr Tung insisted that "Hong Kong was living in a different world" where Chinese laws would not apply. Nevertheless it was revealed yesterday that the first legislative act of the China-appointed Provisional Legislature for Hong Kong would be to pass a law curtailing the right to demonstrate and roll back other civil rights which have come into law in recent years.

In a characteristically oblique criticism of Mr Tung, Governor Chris Patten said yesterday that while he had no reason to doubt his successor was sincere, he failed to understand how guarantees of the right to demonstrate given by an individual could overrule new legislation aimed at curtailing the right to demonstrate.

Martin Lee, the leader of the Democratic Party, also questioned whether Mr Tung had the power to prevent a Tiananmen Square-type massacre in Hong Kong. He said that "if the troops are ordered by their officers to shoot", they would do so and the Chief Executive would be powerless to stop them.

Invited to express criticism of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Mr Tung declined to give a direct response. He described it as "an event nobody wanted to see happen". Adding, "I think history should be the judge of this particular event. But one thing, in looking back, you can say is this: that in the eight years since, China's progress in the economic front has been enormous and that was possible because of the stability, the social stability that now prevails all across the nation."

Mr Tung is said to be increasingly dismayed about the negative image of his incoming administration in the United States. However he appears, yet again, to have reinforced the view that all his public utterances mirror remarks by Chinese officials.

Mr Tung is now using the exact terminology employed by Chinese officials - in both Chinese and English - even including the remark that Mr Lee and his associates will be disappointed if they want to become martyrs. This remark was made on a number of occasions by Lu Ping , the most senior Chinese official in charge of Chinese affairs, during a recent visit to Canada.

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