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Hong Kong Delays Decision on Anti-Sedition Laws

Hong Kong's leader has delayed a decision on whether to stall or amend planned anti-sedition laws that have attracted widespread criticism and mass protest in the Chinese territory. Tung Chee-hwa's government is under mounting pressure as the legislature holds emergency meetings on how to respond to concerns the law will undermine civil liberties.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa says he needs more time to consult with advisors before deciding how to react to public discontent over proposed anti-sedition laws, known as Article 23.

The Tung administration is now under mounting public pressure to either delay, amend or drop the planned legislation altogether. The watershed came Tuesday when 500,000 people, or seven percent of the population, joined in a mass street demonstration against Article 23, the largest protests in more than a decade.

This week, the legislature has been holding a series of emergency meetings to decide how to respond to the protests.

But on Friday, Mr. Tung made it clear he was not considering abandoning the measure but he declined to say if changes would be made.

"It is our duty as Chinese citizens, it is also our duty under the constitution, to legislate a national security law in accordance to our basic law," he said. "It is also a very important part of our relationship with the central authorities."

Critics say the laws, which criminalize sedition, subversion and treason, could erode civil liberties and be used to crack down on groups outlawed in mainland China.

Hong Kong's post-colonial constitution requires it to enact a national security law, but does not specify a deadline.

Mr. Tung's opponents say they will vote against the legislation next week, while some of his supporters suggest amending the laws first.

Many lawmakers who usually back the administration say they still have not decided how to vote.

Public discontent over the proposed laws and the administration's indecisiveness is throwing Mr. Tung into a crisis.

On Friday local English language newspaper The Standard reported that a Hong Kong representative to China's legislative consulting body says his Beijing sources describe the chief executive's leadership as "over."

Also Friday The Hong Kong Economic Journal, a Chinese language newspaper, threatened to shut down if the laws are passed. The paper's editorial echoes fears the proposed legislation would erode media freedoms.

Foreign governments such as the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have urged Mr. Tung's administration to drop the laws.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after more than a century of British rule.

Under the terms of a one country two-systems policy, Hong Kong has retained its capitalist economy, British-style judiciary and freedom of expression and religion.