HK groups to mark handover with protests


HONG KONG, AFP

As Hong Kong on Saturday prepared to celebrate its fourth anniversary under Chinese rule, pro democracy groups in the territory intensified calls for a directly elected chief executive.

The former British colony will mark the fourth anniversary of its July 1, 1997 return to Chinese rule on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Frontier Party, Gavin Kwok said around 1,000 members of various pro-democracy groups were expected to turn out for a rally Sunday to press for the direct election of the next chief executive.

Hong Kong’s chief executive is chosen by a Beijing-anointed 800-member Election Committee.

The current chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s five-year term is due to end next year, but reports claim that Beijing is firmly behind him seeking a second term in office.

However, Kwok said that “it is our right to push for full democracy before 2006” the date prescribed in Hong Kong’s mini constitution, agreed between Britain and China ahead of the handover, for such a development.

Kwok added that a “recent public survey showed that more than three-quarters of respondents support the direct election of the chief executive.”

He said the group would hold aloft a banner carrying thousands of signatures of support during the protest Sunday.

Tung’s popularity has fallen since becoming the territory’s first chief executive on July 1, 1997 despite being credited with steering Hong Kong on a stable course in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

A survey conducted by University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program (POP) found that the popularity of Tung remained around 53 percent, the same as a year earlier.

However, 33 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s performance.

Another POP survey released to coincide with the territory’s fourth anniversary found that some 68 percent of Hong Kong residents felt the overall condition of the territory was worse now than before the handover.

The annual poll interviewed 1,074 people in June.

It found that only 10 percent of interviewees said conditions had improved since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule.

The survey also found that the feel-good factor of reverting back to China had worn off with only 7.8 percent saying they were excited compared to 35 percent in 1997.

Almost 60 percent said they were not proud of having formally become Chinese citizens compared to 45.7 percent recorded just before the handover, the South China Morning Post reported.

The handover anniversary celebrations are scheduled to be a low key affair.

A flag-raising ceremony will be attended by the Tung along with 500 officials and dignitaries, although unlike previous years, no Chinese leader will be attending.