The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Debate on HK bill to reopen in September

Hong Kong, July 23 (Reuters): Hong Kong plans to reopen public consultations in September on a controversial anti-subversion law that has triggered the territory’s worst political crisis in years.

But it stopped short of meeting demands from pro-democracy groups to scrap the original bill and start public discussion from scratch.

Acting permanent secretary for security, Timothy Tong, told legislators the revised proposal would reflect government concessions following massive public demonstrations on July 1.

“We will call this a consultation document and we plan to release it in September,” he said.

The government has set no timetable for the law to be enacted, but Tong repeated that Hong Kong had to put it in place. The city’s mini-constitution requires it to enact such a law.

Dozens of opponents of the law, including adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement banned by Beijing, demonstrated outside the legislature building roday as Tong addressed the legislature. They vowed to continue their protests.

After the half a million-strong march early this month, the government dropped or amended several of the bill’s most contentious clauses, including one which would have given police sweeping search powers. It later postponed final readings of the bill after a key ally in the legislature defected.

Despite the government’s move to water down the legislation, critics still fear it could pose the biggest threat to basic human rights in Hong Kong since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Many argue the definitions of treason, sedition and subversion are far too vague, and could be used to silence anyone critical of leaders here or in Beijing.

The government refused to release a full draft of the planned law during public consultations last year, saying ordinary people would not be able to understand it.

Richard Tsoi, who helped organise the July 1 march, criticised the timing of the new consultations, saying public passions were still running too high.

”This bill should not be discussed at this sensitive period. The people are still disappointed with the government,” he said.

”The government needs to build new trust and restore confidence. It would be better to discuss it after we have achieved universal suffrage,” he added, stopping short of saying whether he would organise more protests.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker and demonstration leader, also opposed the government's consultation plan.

”We are not satisfied. The consultation does not start from zero. Whether we'll organise more protests will depend on whether the government will listen to our voices,” Lee said.

Fearing Hong Kong could be used as a base for subversion against it, China has been pushing Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa to enact the law. But following the protests it said the timing was up to Hong Kong.

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