Walkout over Hong Kong's 'empty' talks

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The Independent Online
Hong Kong - Democrats staged a noisy walkout from a meeting with Hong Kong's incoming government yesterday, highlighting the conflict over plans to roll back civil liberties when China takes over on 1 July.

The closed-door meeting at Hong Kong's Space Museum was billed as a consultation between Michael Suen, policy coordinator of the post-colonial government-in-waiting, and members of municipal and regional councils.

But 16 representatives of the pro-democracy camp, fierce opponents of the proposed changes, walked out, claiming the consultation was a charade to portray the incoming government as open to dissent.

Their leaders had announced their action in advance. When the meeting was under way, they ripped up a copy of the draft legislation, said Ng Wing-fai, a city councillor for the Democratic Party, Hong Kong's largest.

Mr Ng said his group was heckled by pro-China councillors and a Democrat's microphone was cut off in mid-speech.

Mr Suen said the dissenters never intended to have a genuine consultation. "They didn't give me an opportunity to respond to their questions but instead they had made up their minds to create a scene," he said on Hong Kong radio.

The incoming government wants to make demonstrations subject to police approval, and to ban political groups from forging ties with foreigners. The changes would also permit the banning of political parties on various grounds including national security.

The democratic camp says they signal tougher, Chinese-style restrictions on civil liberties. China maintains these conflict with Hong Kong's post- colonial constitution.

On a less divisive note, Hong Kong's future leader won praise from a Democratic Party leader for a speech in which he pledged "the strongest determination to preserve the freedoms that the people of Hong Kong currently enjoy".

Party Vice-Chairman Anthony Cheung said he welcomed Tung Chee-hwa's assurance that the right to protest and demonstrate were "people's rights, and should be part of Hong Kong's political culture".