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HK Government Concessions Denounced As Insufficient
John Ruwitch

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HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government on Monday offered concessions on its unpopular election reform package ahead of a crucial vote in the legislature, but pro-democracy legislators denounced the changes as insufficient.

The democrats said they would veto the reforms if they did not include an indication of when the former British colony would be allowed universal suffrage.

The government is pushing for the reform package to be tabled in the Legislative Council, or Legco, on Wednesday. If the reforms are voted down, it could embarrass Chief Executive Donald Tsang and irritate Beijing.

Whatever the result, Tsang will travel to Beijing to brief senior leaders on Dec. 27-28, the government has said. Beijing regained control of Hong Kong in 1997 and has kept a tight grip on the pace of political reform in the territory.

The concessions announced on Monday offered to boost democracy at the district level by allowing more district councillors to be directly elected from 2008, rather than appointed by interest groups.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang urged lawmakers to "be courageous" and support the package, arguing that it was a major step toward full democracy and that there was no need to link it to a timetable.

"My administration has done all it can and all it should," he said.

Protest March

The revisions to the election reform plan come in the wake of a Dec. 5 protest march by tens of thousands of people demanding universal suffrage and opposing the reform package.

Among the marchers was Anson Chan, a widely respected political heavyweight who served as head of the civil service under Tsang's predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa. On Monday, Chan pressed Tsang to offer a timetable for universal suffrage.

"As our Chief Executive, is Mr. Tsang willing to make a promise to the Hong Kong citizens that he will propose to the Beijing government to carry out universal suffrage by 2012 the latest?" she asked at a news conference.

"I believe that this is a question which many Hong Kong citizens are concerned about. So I hope that Chief Executive can openly give us an answer."

Tsang's reform plan would expand the number of legislators in Hong Kong by 10 to 70, half of whom are directly elected, and double the number of electoral committee members who pick the Chief Executive to 1,600.

Pro-democracy lawmakers opposed the concessions made on Monday and said they would kill the plan without a timetable.

"I don't find it attractive at all and I don't see the democrats being influenced by this at all," said Martin Lee. "I think it will be rejected."

Lee Wing-tat, head of the Democratic Party, said they would push for the government to delay concluding the matter until at least February and formulate a package that includes a timetable.

"If the new package can contain a commitment on the timetable I think my party will support it," he said, otherwise they will vote against it. (Additional reporting by Donny Kwok)

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