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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
China HK decision 'disappointing'
Hong Kong's leader, Tung Chee-hwa
Hong Kong's chief executive Tung Chee-hwa backs Beijing's stand
Britain and the US have criticised China's decision not to allow the people of Hong Kong to elect their next leader.

British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said the move was inconsistent with the agreement made when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.

The US Consul-General to Hong Kong said it was an erosion of island's autonomy.

At the moment Hong Kong residents have no direct say in choosing their leader, and pick only some legislators.

Before Britain handed the territory back to China, it obtained a pledge that Hong Kong would be allowed some degree of autonomy to run its own affairs.

The arrangement was characterised by Beijing as "one country, two systems".

A mini-constitution was agreed - called the Basic Law - which set out a gradual process of democratic reform allowing for direct elections to be held to decide Hong Kong's leader in 2007.

But on Monday, China's top legislative panel, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled that the territory could not elect its next leader because such a poll could stir social and economic instability.

It said that Hong Kong would be allowed to make changes to its electoral methods, but only gradually.

Hong Kong's chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, who has Beijing's full backing, said he supported China's ruling and called on people to be "calm and rational".

But decision has provoked anger both in Hong Kong and abroad.

Opposition law-makers walked out of a seminar held at the government headquarters to discuss the decision.

Legislator Fred Li accused Beijing of "dictating Hong Kong policy" without regard to public opinion.

In Britain, Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said China's decision was inconsistent with the Joint Declaration agreed between London and Beijing in 1997.

He said he was "disappointed that the NPC has set limits to constitutional development in Hong Kong that are not required by the Basic Law."

Mr Rammell said he would meet the Chinese ambassador in London later on Monday to express these concerns.

The US Consul-General in Hong Kong, James Keith, also voiced disappointment at Beijing's move.

"[It] is an erosion of the high degree of autonomy that the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong," he said.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Beijing says its decision will help to bring calm here"

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