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Hong Kong postpones national security bill
( 2003-07-07 09:19) (China Daily HK Edition)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said early Monday morning that the second reading of the national security bill will not go ahead as scheduled in the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday with the Liberals' sudden change of heart.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (C), Donald Tsang, the Chief Secretary for Administration and Antony Leung, Financial Secretary attend a news conference at a central government office in Hong Kong July 5, 2003. [Reuters]
He made the declaration after government held an emergency meeting Sunday night to discuss the fast-changing situation.

"The second reading will be forced to be postponed," Wen Wei Po also quotes Ip Kwok-him, chairman of the Bills Committee on National Security (Legislative Provision) Bill, as saying in today's edition.

Liberal Party Chairman James Tien tendered his resignation from the Executive Council to Tung last night "with immediate effect". Tung said he had accepted it.

The party also announced Sunday night in a statement that "it reiterates its request to government to defer the second reading of the national security bill".

Till Sunday, 22 democrats and independent legislators were opposed to the bill and backed an adjournment to defer the bill's second and third readings.

With the joining of the Liberals, who have eight votes, the balance of power at the LegCo has tilted in favour of the democrats on the issue.

Under LegCo rules of procedure, any attempt by lawmakers to suspend a bill's passage will have to win majority support from two groups: The 30 legislators returned from functional constituencies and the 30 representing geographical constituencies and the election committee.

The "democratic camp" has already secured enough votes in the second group. The eight votes of the Liberals have made it possible to get a suspension through the first group as well.

Tien's resignation follows the government's announcement that it would introduce three substantive amendments to the national security bill.

The changes are: Proposal to outlaw groups linked to banned mainland organizations is scrapped; public interest is introduced as a defence for disclosing official secrets; and withdrawal of police power to enter and search without court warrant.

The Liberal Party statement said that it had consulted widely and listened to public comments and opinion to assess public acceptance of the proposed amendments.

"It is clear that the overall view is that more time is still needed for the community to fully understand the bill.

"The Liberal Party therefore appeals to government once more to defer the second reading of the bill and looks forward to an early decision."

Individual legislator Ng Leung-sing expressed regret over Tien's resignation. "Tien, as an Executive Council member, should have taken the overall benefits to Hong Kong into consideration before tendering his resignation," he said, adding that he did not want to see "the second reading of the bill postponed".

But Yeung Sum, head of the Democratic Party, praised Tien for his "courage and wisdom" in resigning from the Executive Council.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip said earlier yesterday that the three important amendments to the national security bill reflect the government's sincere response to the appeal of the people.

"We sincerely believe we have tried our best to address public concerns. We hope the public will read the amendments carefully and support the resumption of the second reading in the Legislative Council on July 9," she said.

Speaking for the first time since Tuesday's protest, she said the anti-subversion bill would not undermine religious or other freedoms.

She emphasized in particular the amendment on proscribed groups, which was made in response to the worries of many people in the society, including religious groups.

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