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Hong Kong's Chief Executive Resigns

  • Benjamin Sand

Hong Kong's embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, has confirmed he has resigned, ending a week of speculation and nearly eight years as the territory's leader. Mr. Tung has been Hong Kong's first - and only - chief executive since the British left the territory in 1997.

Tung Chee-hwa blamed poor health for his early departure, but many Hong Kong residents think Beijing may have pushed him out the door.

Media reports in Hong Kong suggest mainland Chinese officials felt that popular frustration with Mr. Tung was becoming too great a political distraction.

In December, Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly reprimanded the 67-year-old Mr. Tung for his poor performance, fueling rumors that Beijing was considering making a change in Hong Kong.

But Mr. Tung on Thursday pointedly rejected speculation that Beijing forced his resignation.

"That is not the case, the central government has repeatedly - repeatedly - affirmed the work that I and my colleagues have done," he said.

Part of a wealthy family that came originally from Shanghai, Mr. Tung took office in 1997 with little political experience but strong ties to Chinese leaders.

As his popularity waned, he was frequently portrayed as a mouthpiece for Beijing and criticized for being out of touch with Hong Kong's large middle class.

His support for a Beijing-backed security bill and his resistance to direct elections sparked a series of mass political rallies in Hong Kong in 2003 and 2004.

The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but was promised significant political autonomy under the so-called one country two systems policy.

But Beijing has allegedly played a leading role in a number of key local decisions, from voting rights to the chief executive's resignation.

Only half the city's legislature is directly elected and the chief executive is selected by a group of eight hundred people approved by Beijing.

Mr. Tung on Thursday - speaking through an interpreter - says Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland is key to its future.

"One country two systems will prevail," he said, "one country two systems has also given Hong Kong irreplaceable competitive advantages, these competitive advantages will play an increasingly important role in our continued development."

Mr. Tung is expected to leave office Saturday, although he did not specify a date. The city's second-highest official, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang, a policeman's son and career bureaucrat, will reportedly take over until a new leader is selected later this year.