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Blair Voices Support for Greater Democracy in Hong Kong - 2003-07-22


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in Hong Kong, after voicing support for increased democracy in the former British colony. The visit follows a three-nation Asian tour focused on pressuring North Korea to end it nuclear weapons program.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was greeted by Hong Kong's second in command, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang, at the territory's Chek Lap Kok airport on Tuesday evening.

He had just come from Beijing and Shanghai, where he told China's Communist Party leaders that the former British colony, handed back to China in 1997, should be more democratic. "You know … there are proposals to move toward greater democracy in Hong Kong, obviously we support that," Mr. Blair said.

The comment comes as Hong Kong's government is facing a political crisis over its handling of proposed security legislation. The planned laws sparked mass demonstrations with protesters calling the measures an affront to Hong Kong's civil liberties.

But Hong Kong residents also voiced demands for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to step down and for the territory to be able to directly elect a leader for the first time in its history.

Hong Kong's chief executive was appointed by a committee of 800 citizens, made-up almost entirely of the city's wealthy business elite and China supporters.

Despite calls for his resignation, Mr. Tung still enjoys strong support from Beijing and looks set to serve as Hong Kong's leader for four more years.

While advocating greater democracy, Mr. Blair also complemented China's central government for respecting Hong Kong's high level of autonomy, guaranteed for 50 years in the territory's post-colonial constitution.

Roddy Shaw, a protest organizer and member of the group known as the Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front, welcomed Mr. Blair's comments Tuesday. He said Hong Kong people feel that local leaders do not take residents' concerns seriously, but are more optimistic about the leadership in Beijing

"I think the fear and the worries are more [centered] on the local government not the one in Beijing... And I think Hong Kong people have quite a lot of hopes in the Central government opening up," Mr. Shaw said.

Mr. Blair will meet Mr. Tung, lawmakers and business leaders on Wednesday.

Until now, Mr. Blair's Asian tour has focused on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. After visiting Japan, South Korea and China, Mr. Blair said all governments agree diplomacy is the best way to get North Korea to end it pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Blair said he was told by Chinese officials that new talks with North Korea could start within "a few weeks." The U.S. Embassy in Beijing also announced Tuesday that the United States' top arms control official will visit East Asia next week to discuss the North Korean situation.

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