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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 08:25 GMT
HK 'will listen' over treason bill
Protesters stand with their hands tied with rope
Protesters fear for the territory's freedom
Hong Kong's government has promised to listen to protests over proposed anti-subversion legislation, following what was reportedly the biggest demonstration in the territory since its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

I don't want Hong Kong to become like China

Protester
About 20,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong at the weekend to protest against the planned anti-subversion bill.

Timothy Tong, acting permanent secretary for security, told reporters that the government "will continue to listen to the views of the public," before putting forward the bill.

BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticas says the new laws are the most controversial issue to confront Hong Kong since the territory was returned to China five years ago.

The protest snaking through the streets of Hong Kong to the territory's government headquarters on Sunday was far larger than most people had expected.

The government is required to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason and other crimes against the Chinese state, under rules of its return to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997.

Hong Kong protester
Protesters say freedom of speech will be muzzled
Our correspondent says the proposals put forward by the Hong Kong government, with backing from Beijing, are far-reaching and are starting to arouse deep-seated opposition.

People found guilty under the new law can be imprisoned for life.

But critics say the law is so loosely written it would let the authorities trample on people's freedoms or ban groups the government does not like.

Pro-Beijing newspapers said on Monday that the protests had been whipped up by uninformed "demagogues".

Daily Wen Wei Po said it "lamented the irrational behaviour of opposing for the sake of opposing".

Guaranteed freedom

"I don't want Hong Kong to become like China," said a 48-year-old civil servant who joined Sunday's demonstration.

Another protester, a 25-year-old bank clerk added: "The rights we have are not guaranteed in the future."

But the Hong Kong Security Bureau said the rally bore testimony to the freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate enjoyed by the territory's residents.

"These rights and freedoms are guaranteed," the bureau said in a statement.

Police put the number of protesters at 12,000, while organisers said 50,000 had turned out. Reports say the demonstration stretched for six kilometres (3.5 miles)

Pro-democracy politicians and human rights activists have been joined by businessmen who fear the legislation could damage Hong Kong's role as a business centre because it might limit the exchange of financial information.

Wealthy newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai, who joined the marchers on Sunday, said the law was like "an invisible, tightening collar".

See also:

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