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Vote Delayed on Hong Kong Anti-Subversion Law - 2003-07-07

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, facing widespread popular discontent, has bowed to opponents of proposed anti-subversion laws and delayed a vote on their final passage. The decision follows the sudden resignation of a key ally Sunday.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa says his decision to delay the laws' passage is a show of respect for public opinion. "This is really in response, further response, to the views and concerns expressed by the people," he said.

Mr. Tung did not say when the laws will be put to a vote, but for now, the time will be used to better explain the legislation to the Hong Kong people.

An estimated half-million demonstrators clogged the streets of Hong Kong on July 1 to protest the controversial laws, which had been scheduled for passage Wednesday. Opponents fear the legislation will endanger Hong Kong's civil liberties, paving the way for the kind of restrictions found in mainland China.

Mr. Tung had already bowed to public pressure Saturday, when he announced he would amend the bill to remove some of the more controversial elements. Those to be scrapped included provisions to ban groups affiliated with outlawed groups on mainland China and allowing police to conduct searches without warrants. The amendments would also add language to strengthen protection for journalists.

Mr. Tung's decision to delay the measure altogether followed the sudden resignation late Sunday of Liberal Party Chairman James Tien, whose party has been a traditional ally of Mr. Tung. But Mr. Tien says the government needs more time to study the amended version of the Article 23 laws. "We do not think it is possible for government to get it done by Monday or Tuesday, within two days, and then go for a second reading on July 9," he said.

Mr. Tien acknowledges that the July 1 protest showed a broader frustration with Mr. Tung's government, which is not limited to Article 23 concerns.

"It might be everything else that is affecting Hong Kong recently," said Mr. Tien. "The SARS problem, the unemployment problem, negative equity … and everything else."

Mr. Tung is promising not to ignore those who are unhappy with his government. "I am looking at this very carefully … and soon, I will be making responses to them," he said.

In the meantime, pro-democracy lawmakers are intensifying their calls for Mr. Tung to step aside. One lawmaker calls the handling of the Article 23 laws an "unprecedented political calamity."