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Hong Kong Leader Vows to Work for City's Poor

Hounded by criticism over his leadership, Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa has vowed to improve governance and step up efforts to help the city's poor.

On his annual policy speech Wednesday, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa admitted he had failed to listen to the people and their needs.

Mr. Tung says the government is open to greater input from the public in policy-making.

"We have taken heed of public criticisms of our governance… We will gauge the mood of the people more accurately and listen more closely to their opinions," he said.

Mr. Tung's comments come a month after Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly lectured him to improve governance.

The unpopular leader has faced criticism over his handling of public demand for democratic reforms, the economy and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome health crisis in 2003.

Mr. Tung also promised to pay more attention to the city's poor. A $25 million fund has been created to provide education, employment and training to the poor.

While Hong Kong remains one of the world's wealthiest cities, there are concerns that a growing income gap may lead to social unrest. While the city is famous for its fleets of luxury cars and sky-high housing costs, welfare groups estimate that more than 200,000 thousand families live on less than $510 a month.

"We will …take practical measures to mitigate antagonism between different strata. We will seriously address the problem of poverty to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty," promised Mr. Tung.

Hong Kong has been administered under a "one country, two systems" policy since its return to Chinese sovereignty seven years ago. The policy grants Hong Kong autonomy and maintains its capitalist economy and Western legal system despite China's communist system.

Mr. Tung has been the city's chief executive since the return to Chinese sovereignty. He was selected by several hundred city residents, who were handpicked by Beijing.

About half of the city's legislature is directly elected by universal suffrage. Democracy activists have been demanding direct elections to pick the next chief executive in 2007 and all of the legislators.