Hong Kong vote set for May '98, future leader says
June 29, 1997
Web posted at: 2:26 p.m. EDT (1826 GMT)
HONG KONG (CNN) -- As international VIPs converged upon Hong
Kong on Sunday for festivities marking the territory's
handover to Chinese rule, its future government said the
first democratic elections here under Chinese rule would be
held in May 1998.
Future chief executive Tung Chee-hwa told visiting Australian
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that elections for a new
legislature would be held next May, Downer told reporters.
Hong Kong's democratically elected legislative council,
seated during British rule, will be replaced hours after the
midnight Monday handover with a provisional legislature
appointed by Beijing.
Democratic elections for the former British colony had been
one of the most contentious issues surrounding the transfer
of power. Tung, a shipping magnate chosen by Beijing to
bridge the handover, had earlier promised a vote within a
year, but had not named the month.
In another move of apparent reassurance, Chinese President
Jiang Zemin pledged Sunday to respect Hong Kong's right to
autonomy and safeguard the freedoms of its residents.
"We will firmly ... safeguard the Hong Kong residents' rights
and freedoms in accordance with the law," China's official
news agency, Xinhua, quoted Jiang as saying before he left
the Chinese capital to review the 4,000 troops Beijing is
sending into Hong Kong.
However, Hong Kong's Democratic Party has heaped scorn on the
Chinese government's apparent attempt to smooth relations
between the Communist Party and pro-democracy activists, who
are vowing to push on with protests.
The United States also has been concerned about China's
actions after the handover. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright again warned China Sunday that the United States
cares deeply about Hong Kong after the reversion to Chinese
rule, and expects Beijing to allow "free and fair"
legislative elections quickly.
"The rule of law is what has allowed Hong Kong to scrape the
sky. It is upon the continuation of the rule of law that its
future aspirations can depend," Albright said on her first
day in the city of glistening skyscrapers.
Albright also was critical of the movement of troops into
Hong Kong, saying, "It's not the best first signal."
Democratic Party leader Martin Lee said the deployment was
heavy-handed and "will only frighten our people."
"While there have been problems...I don't think anybody has managed the withdrawal from an empire as peacefully as the United Kingdon has done."
On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign
Secretary Robin Cook will meet Jiang and Chinese Premier Li
Peng for one hour of talks at a Kowloon hotel, British
During the summit, Blair's first meeting with Jiang, Cook
said he and Blair would focus mainly on Hong Kong. He said
Britain expected China to keep to its bargain in the 1984
Joint Declaration, and he reminded China this is a
full-blown international treaty registered at the United
"Hong Kong will be the main centerpiece of our relations with
China for a long time to come," Cook said.
In the final hours of British rule, Prince Charles bestowed
knighthoods and other honors on a hundred local and
expatriate Hong Kong residents in a final imperial ceremony
in the gilded ballroom of Government House.
Outgoing Governor Chris Patten attended his final mass at the
territory's Roman Catholic cathedral, where he took to the
pulpit to preach the virtues of making money and thank the
congregation for its support.
"The contract is we'll pray that Hong Kong will fly to the
heavens, and you'll occasionally say a prayer for us," Patten
Symbols of British rule are already being stripped away from
government buildings in Hong Kong. Workmen took the royal
coat of arms off the entrance to Britain's former naval base
Sunday. In the New Territories, Chinese flags have been
raised alongside roadsides and pathways.
Patten said one last farewell to the territory's "first
dogs," Whisky and Soda, before the dogs' departure Sunday for
the Pattens' vacation home in Toulouse, France. The pooches
should have left Friday, but were grounded in Hong Kong
because of a baggage handlers' strike at Charles de Gaulle
Airport in Paris.
And 76 couples were married on Sunday, receiving the last
wedding certificates bearing the royal British emblem. Most
couples said they wanted a pre-handover wedding, but the
reasons had little to do with politics. According to the
Chinese calendar, June 29 is the luckiest wedding day all
State Department Correspondent Steve Hurst, Correspondent Tom
Mintier and Reuters contributed to this report.
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