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Unpopular HK bill withdrawn, not scrapped

Hong Kong, Sept. 5 (Reuters): An anti-subversion bill that sparked Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis in years was withdrawn today, but the city’s leader said the government was still legally bound to pass a security law.

The move was the biggest concession made by the government since half-a-million people took to the streets on July 1 to press for the withdrawal of the proposed legislation, which critics feared would trample on basic civil rights.

The outpouring of anger with the China-backed government split Hong Kong’s ruling elite and alarmed leaders in Beijing.

“The community still has concerns about the content of the bill. To give the public more time to understand the bill, we have decided to withdraw it,” chief executive Tung Chee-hwa told a news briefing.

With the withdrawal of the bill, the government will have to start the legislative procedure from scratch and draft a new bill, as critics have demanded.

Tung said the government also decided to withdraw the bill in order to focus on the economy. Beijing believes political discontent in Hong Kong will begin to dissipate once the economy improves and has announced initiatives in recent weeks to boost consumer confidence.

Political analysts, however, believe the move was aimed at ensuring pro-government parties do not lose seats to pro-democracy candidates in upcoming elections.

Even though political tension has cooled slightly, anti-government sentiment still remains strong.

This week, protesters attempted to stop Tung’s car by lying on the road.

The leader of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party recently suggested postponing the bill until after October 2004.

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