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Hong Kong's Chief Fails to Set Timetable for Democratic Elections - 2004-01-07

Hong Kong's chief executive, sidestepping the demands of opposition lawmakers and democracy advocates, has failed to set a specific timetable for full democratic elections in his annual policy address.

In his address on Wednesday, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said his administration had established a task force to decide how to approach the highly contentious issue of political reform.

He said the task force would be headed by the Donald Tsang, the chief secretary for administration. Mr. Tsang is generally well regarded in Hong Kong, but is reported to be viewed with suspicion in Beijing.

Six days before the policy address, about 100,000 residents took to the streets to demand direct election of all of Hong Kong's legislature and its chief executive.

Mr. Tung later acknowledged the public calls for a quick transition to full democracy, and dissatisfaction with his leadership. But he said he would have to consult Beijing before making any major changes in the electoral laws.

He said this is required by Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which guarantees the territory a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

"Referring to the constitutional development, the basic law is very clear that the central government has an important role to play," he said.

Richard Tsoi, a leader of the pro-democracy movement, said he was "very dissatisfied" with Mr. Tung's address, and promised further demonstrations to press for full democracy.

Mr. Tsoi calls for the public to join in a candlelight protest to show its dissatisfaction with the policy address.

Mr. Tung's address also echoed past promises to reduce unemployment and upgrade transport and shipping facilities, in order to keep Hong Kong competitive as a trading hub.

He announced that the government aims to balance the budget by 2008 or 2009. The territory, buffeted by years of recession and deflation, is currently running an annual deficit of almost $10 billion.