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Pro-China Party Leader Urges Government to Rethink Controversial Anti-Sedition Laws - 2003-07-03

The head of Hong Kong's largest pro-China party has urged the government to rethink controversial anti-sedition laws being introduced at the behest of Beijing. The legislation has drawn wide protest over fears it could erode rights and freedoms. A top pro-China lawmaker in Hong Kong suggested the government revise proposed anti-subversion laws, which critics fear could curtail civil liberties.

Tsang Yok Sing heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, which had supported the laws, arguing they were necessary to protect national security.

But on Thursday, Mr. Tsang said the legislation should be changed.

Mr. Tsang says Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa, should consider withdrawing the most controversial parts of the laws, which give the government wider power to search and investigate suspected subversives.

His remarks follow a protest on Tuesday, when half a million Hong Kong residents took to the streets demanding the legislation be withdrawn.

It was the biggest show of public dissatisfaction in more than a decade in Hong Kong.

Much of the outrage was aimed at Hong Kong's lawmaking body. Only a minority of the Legislative Council's members are elected by the city at large; most are elected by small interest or professional groups.

Mr. Tsang's comments mark a turning point in Hong Kong politics because his party, with its ideological and business ties to mainland China, usually votes for legislation Beijing favors.

Mr. Tsang also says he has discussed his concerns with Chief Executive Tung. Mr. Tung, however, has refused to meet with the opposition lawmakers.

A vote on the laws is expected July 9. Opponents of the laws have promised to surround the legislature that day.

In reaction, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Tsang Yam-pui on Thursday warned that police would be paying close attention to any new protests.

The police chief says that disrupting legislative proceedings is illegal.

The planned laws have drawn sharp criticism from the United States and Britain, which fear they could negate Hong Kong's freedoms. On Thursday, the Australian and New Zealand governments also urged Hong Kong officials to reconsider the legislation.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after more than century of British rule. Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong has retained its capitalist economy, British-style judiciary and freedom of expression and religion.

Although the focus of Tuesday's march was the anti-subversion laws, many of the marchers also expressed widespread discontent with the city's government. Since 1997, Hong Kong's economy has languished, with rising unemployment and falling property prices. In addition, many people think the government has fumbled on a number of issues, such as education reform and pay cuts for civil servants.