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Pro-Democracy Groups Trying to Subvert Hong Kong Government, charges China - 2003-07-14

A Chinese state-owned newspaper has accused pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong of trying to subvert the city's government. The editorial comes as Hong Kong's administration faces a political crisis in the wake of mass rallies against security legislation and the territory's leader.

An editorial in Monday's edition of the China Daily accused organizers of a pro-democracy protest of trying to undermine Hong Kong's government.

It is the harshest, most direct comment yet to come from China about a series of major protests in Hong Kong against planned security laws.

The state-owned newspaper says pro-democracy lawmakers are taking advantage of the weak economy and the financial hardship of many residents to rally support for their ambitions to "take over power in Hong Kong."

Albert Ho, vice-chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, said he is not surprised by the editorial. He said while his party does not intend to undermine the local or central government, the democrats have faced similar labeling for years.

"Since 1989, when many of us had actively participated in the massive demonstration in Hong Kong in support of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, and then June 4, there has been a complete breakdown of the official ties and communication between members of the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong and the mainland government," Mr. Ho said.

The protests began July 1, when a half-million residents marched to show their anger over planned laws banning subversion, sedition and treason. Critics have said the legislation is too vague, and could end Hong Kong's freedoms of religion and expression.

Monday's editorial used language many Hong Kong residents fear could be used to outlaw groups the mainland government considers dangerous.

Although the territory's government put the planned laws on hold after July 1, there have been two more protests of tens of thousands of people calling for greater democracy and a change in leadership. The most recent was on Sunday.

Beijing, which fears Hong Kong could be used as a base for dissidents trying to subvert the mainland, said the laws are necessary for national security.

Democrat Albert Ho says the editorial does not necessarily reflect the views of the central government.

He said mainland officials have sought his views during unofficial meetings. He said that recently Chinese officials came to him to discuss public opinion.

Hong Kong's government responded to Sunday's pro-democracy rally with a statement that it plans to begin gathering opinions on moving toward universal suffrage for the city's chief executive and its legislature. Now, the chief executive is chosen by an elite group of 800 mainland appointees, and half of the legislature is directly elected.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. It retains a British-style judiciary and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.