Tung issues caution over referendum on elections

AGITATION: A Web site called for independence, while Beijing's man warned the legislature against trying to hold a referendum on direct elections in HK

Tuesday, Nov 16, 2004,Page 1

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (ص) yesterday warned lawmakers against backing a legislative motion calling for a referendum on direct elections, saying it would damage the territory's "harmonious atmosphere."

China ruled in April that Hong Kong can't have universal suffrage by 2008 as was sought by pro-democracy campaigners, but their camp has pressed ahead with demands for quick democratic reform, recently pushing for a referendum on the matter.

China has opposed the idea, and Tung also rejected the move earlier, but he made the rare move of restating his opposition yesterday ahead of a meeting to discuss a motion backing a referendum. Tung said lawmakers should abide by China's April ruling "no matter what opinions or views they personally hold."

He said the referendum "doesn't comply with set legal procedures" and called it "an inappropriate approach that is unrealistic and misleads citizens."

Tung warned "not only will it severely hurt the harmonious atmosphere that has emerged in society and affect good relations between the central government and the Hong Kong special region, but it doesn't help the healthy development of democracy in Hong Kong."

Tung was elected by an 800-member committee loyal to Bei-jing. Rank-and-file voters picked half of the 60 sitting lawmakers, while special interest groups that also tend to side with China chose the remaining 30 legislators.

Also yesterday, a newspaper reported that a Web site called for the territory's independence from China, a demand that a senior pro-Beijing figure said borders on treason.

The "Hong Konger Frontline" site describes its mission as "promoting Hong Kongers' consciousness of local identity, refusing collaboration with China, building a country that belongs to Hong Kongers," the Ming Pao Daily News reported.

However, reporters in Hong Kong and Bangkok were not able yesterday to access the Web page identified by the paper as http://new.nnsol.com/hongkonger, registered in India.

It wasn't immediately clear why the Web page wasn't accessible. The Hong Kong government declined comment on whether it had blocked the site, while the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong didn't immediately respond to a faxed query seeking comment on the Web site and whether it had sought to have it shut down.

The site also reportedly urges locals to "adamantly refuse to travel to China, boycott Chinese products and discriminate against Chinese tourists."

Ip Kwok-him (), the vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said the Web site borders on treason, which carries a life sentence in Hong Kong. "It's very borderline," he said by telephone.

But Hong Kong's government suggested the site is protected by freedom of expression.