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Hong Kong Leader Tung Chee-Hwa Delays Vote on Subversion Law - 2003-07-06

In surprise move Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-Hwa has backed down from insisting controversial anti-subversion laws go to a final vote on Wednesday. The legislation, which critics say are a threat to civil liberties, also prompted one of the leader's closest allies to resign.

Chief Executive Tung Che-Hwa's surprise reversal came in the early hours of Monday morning.

After hours of meeting with his cabinet members, the Hong Kong leader issued a statement postponing Wednesday's vote on the planned national security legislation, denounced by critics as damaging to civil liberties such as freedom of speech. Only hours earlier, Mr. Tung insisted the bill make its final passage through the law-making body as planned.

But his hopes of passing the bill by Wednesday faded after a key legislative ally, James Tien, resigned, saying the bill should be delayed to allow the public to be better informed on the provisions of the bill.

Last week's protest against the laws by more than a half million residents prompted some Tung-supporters to join his opponents in calling for a delay.

Under fire by mainland China's government to approve the bill by Wednesday, Mr. Tung sought to push the bill forward over the weekend by watering down three portions of the legislation that had come under fire by critics. They involved a controversial provision relating to police powers of search and seizure; the assembly of groups outlawed in China; and protection of the media's role.

But opposition lawmakers and other groups said the watered-down bill did not offer enough protection.

Under the terms of the Hong Kong's hand-over from British to Chinese sovereignty in July of 1997, the territory has maintained its separate legal, and economic systems, as well as freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.