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Tung talks with democrats fail

Hong Kong, July 28 (Reuters): Embattled Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa and Opposition pro-democracy lawmakers failed to bridge differences today in their first meeting since huge protests shook Tung’s administration and alarmed Beijing.

“We feel that if we have to rely on Tung to lead Hong Kong towards democracy, our future is gloomy,” legislator Albert Ho said after the hour-long meeting. “People will have to fight for themselves to push for democratic reforms.”

The 17 legislators, among Tung’s most vocal critics, grilled the chief executive on the government’s plans to press ahead with a controversial national security bill and urged him to speed up democratic reforms.

But as expected, the meeting failed to reverse years of mistrust and bear any fruit.

“He (Tung) has yet to be seen lowering his drawbridge,” said political commentator Andy Ho. “But at least this time he has made a step forward by meeting the democrats.”

Tung said after the meeting that he would consider the views of the lawmakers, but declined to give a timetable on constitutional review in the territory. Hong Kong’s constitution allows for universal suffrage after 2007, but does not say when.

Some lawmakers had earlier said Tung was merely paying lip service to his pledge to be more open as he struggles to defuse Hong Kong’s worst political crisis in years.

While Tung was selected by Beijing to run this former British colony after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, most of the 17 legislators he met today were popularly elected.

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in big protests this month to denounce the planned anti-subversion law, which many critics fear will stifle basic civil rights and liberties.

The protests forced Tung first to withdraw some of the bill’s most contentious clauses and then postpone it, but he has vowed that it will be passed.

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