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Hong Kong Protests Coincide with Anniversary of Return to Chinese Sovereignty - 2003-07-01


A massive protest against new anti-subversion laws has coincided with a public holiday in Hong Kong marking the sixth anniversary of the territory's handover from Britain to China. Despite the huge protest, Hong Kong's chief executive indicated the disputed legislation would be passed as scheduled.

As patriotic music played and helicopters pulled Chinese and Hong Kong flags through the sky, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Hong Kong leaders started the day with celebrations marking the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty.

In his speech, Mr. Wen said Hong Kong has no need to worry about new national security laws due to be enacted soon, saying human rights and basic freedoms are guaranteed through existing legislation.

In an impromptu speech to reporters, Prime Minister Wen later told residents that he "loves Hong Kong and its people."

Only hours later, hundreds-of-thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the new security laws, claiming the legislation will erode basic freedoms.

The protest drew business and labor groups, students, journalists and religious leaders into the streets. Some observers estimated that a half-million people took part.

Rights activists argue the provisions will allow China to roll back freedoms under the pretext of national security. The U.S. House of Representatives and the British Government have joined local opposition voices in expressing disapproval of the laws.

Legal experts fear the provisions provide a foundation in Hong Kong for banning such groups as the Roman Catholic Church and Falun Gong, already outlawed on the Mainland.

The demonstrators directed criticism at the territory's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, who is seen as out of touch and indifferent to public concerns, and at the central government in Beijing for urging the local government to enact the new laws.

The demonstration, estimated to be the biggest since a 1989 march protesting the killing of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, ended peacefully late in the evening Tuesday.

After the march was over, a statement by Mr. Tung was released, indicating that the protest would make no difference to passage of the contested laws. Mr. Tung said that Hong Kong citizens had "a duty to protect national security," and he pledged that Hong Kong's freedoms will "not be affected by enactment of the legislation."

He also said the government would "listen more extensively and strive to strengthen communication with the public."

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