- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader withdrew yesterday parts of an antisubversion bill that triggered massive street protests, but some said Tung Chee-hwa may not survive the territory’s biggest political crisis since it returned to China six years ago.

Mr. Tung retreated from his original proposal just days after 500,000 people marched against it, saying the bill threatened Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Yesterday Mr. Tung tried to reassure residents that those liberties will remain intact in the bill, which outlaws subversion, treason, sedition and other crimes against the state, and calls for life in prison for some offenses.

But he agreed to scrap a provision allowing some groups to be banned, add protections for journalists who publish classified information and delete a section allowing police searches without warrants.

The changes came after at least two legislators went to Beijing, heightening perceptions that Mr. Tung has lost his authority.

“I really don’t see how he can stay in the job,” independent lawmaker Audrey Eu said. “This is a total collapse, a breakdown in governance.”

Mr. Tung, surrounded by Cabinet members and top aides at a news conference, acknowledged political shortcomings and said the massive outpouring of public sentiment prompted him to water down the bill.

“My colleagues and myself have to do better,” he said.

He had barely finished speaking when he was accused of ignoring popular opinion by pushing for enacting the bill quickly. Lawmakers said they had not seen the wording of Mr. Tung’s new proposals.

The law is required under the constitution that took effect upon the hand over, July 1, 1997. Mr. Tung called it a “sacrosanct duty of the people of Hong Kong.”

But the opposition Democratic Party said it would try to delay the bill. Organizers of the huge protest march Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong’s hand over from Britain to China, are trying to rally thousands of people again.

The protest was the biggest here since 1 million people demonstrated against Beijing’s deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in June 1989.

Many ordinary Hong Kong residents said yesterday that Mr. Tung should not rush the revised bill.

“He can’t just assume that by making these changes he has solved the problem,” said Jeannie Kwok, 22, a university student. “It’s not enough and it’s not so simple.”

The key to whether the bill can pass Wednesday rests with the pro-business Liberal Party. Liberal lawmakers said yesterday that they still favor a delay but would monitor public opinion before deciding how to vote.

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