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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Inquiry into HK 'gagging' row
Tung Chee-hwa
Mr Tung has refused to appear before inquiry
By Damian Grammaticas in Hong Kong

An inquiry has opened in Hong Kong into allegations the government tried to suppress opinion polls that showed its popularity was in a steady decline.


I have no relevant information and have declined to attend

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa
The claims came to light after a university academic, who monitors public opinion, said he had been warned that the territory's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was unhappy with his work.

Mr Tung, who was appointed by Beijing, has refused to appear before the inquiry.

The row has stirred much angry debate in Hong Kong and raised concerns over how much freedom the territory will continue to enjoy under Chinese rule.

Chris Patten
Some are now saying things were better under the last governor, Chris Patten
The inquiry panel are trying to decide whether attempts were made to gag Robert Chung, a leading pollster who works as an academic at Hong Kong University.

His surveys are among the only independent opinion polls published in the former British Colony.

They have shown that the popularity of the government and Mr Tung is reaching new lows.

Mr Chung claims he was told the chief executive didn't like the polls and if they continued to reveal his unpopularity the funding to Mr Chung's university department might dry up.

Dignity

Mr Tung has denied asking anyone to stop the surveys.

But he added that he has nothing more to say and won't give evidence to the inquiry as he must protect the dignity of his office.

At the root of the whole saga is the government's declining popularity.

It has fallen in recent months because of economic hardships, controversial reforms to housing, education and the civil service, and a perception that the government is remote and out of touch.

Many people in Hong Kong now say they believe the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, did a better job than the present chief executive.

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See also:

07 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
HK Chief in opinion polls row
26 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
China must rule says Hong Kong court
29 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong leans towards Beijing
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