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Hong Kong Government Withdraws Controversial Anti-Subversion Bill - 2003-09-05

Hong Kong's government has withdrawn a controversial anti-subversion bill in the face of mass opposition. Critics say the bill would erode the Chinese territory's civil liberties and media and speech freedoms.

Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, announced Friday he will indefinitely delay the re-introduction of laws against subversion, sedition and treason.

Mr. Tung told reporters the government will not introduce a new version of the laws until there has been more public consultation and support in the community.

He set no timetable.

Hong Kong is required under its mini-constitution to enact such security laws after it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, with a high degree of autonomy. Beijing has maintained the security laws are necessary to protect communist China from Hong Kong being used as a base to subvert the mainland.

A number of legal experts and foreign governments including that of the United States and Britain said Hong Kong's civil liberties could suffer under the new laws characterized by human rights groups as vague and unnecessary.

The bill had gone through several revisions earlier this year in response to public opposition. But its final passage was derailed when a half million people took to the streets on July first, calling for Tung Chee-hwa to resign over the issue.

The crisis forced the security and finance ministers to step down in an effort to restore faith in the government's responsiveness to public concerns.

In his announcement Friday, Chief Executive Tung said Hong Kong needs to focus on the fragile economy right now. The territory has been struggling for six years and now is battling record unemployment and deflation. It slipped into recession after the SARS health crisis hit in March.