HONG KONG — HONG KONG -- Opponents of the Hong Kong government's proposed internal security laws vowed yesterday to surround the Legislative Council with protesters when it takes up the bill next week, and signs emerged of a possible split among pro-government political parties over how to proceed.
The furor created by the proposed laws raised the possibility that opposition parties could win next year's Legislative Council elections, producing the first pro-democracy legislature on Chinese soil since before the Communists won China's civil war in 1949.
But the administration of Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, showed no willingness yesterday to postpone a vote on the legislation after a march Tuesday that drew as many as 500,000 people, or 7 percent of the city's population.
Richard Tsoi, a spokesman for the Civil Human Rights Front, the coalition that organized the march, said an evening protest would be held Wednesday, the day the Legislative Council is scheduled to take up the government's bill.
Demonstrators plan to encircle the council's building in Hong Kong's central business district and occupy nearby streets, Tsoi said.
The struggle over the security laws represents the biggest political challenge to the government since Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The democracy movement was stumbling until recently. But the security legislation, record unemployment, falling housing prices and the government's slow response to SARS have left many residents angry.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, a minority on the Legislative Council, have submitted dozens of amendments to the government's bill, which orders long jail sentences for people involved in sedition, secession or treason and allows the government to ban groups with links to organizations banned in mainland China for reasons of national security. The debate and voting on the bill are expected to take at least two days.
Postponement hoped for
Yeung Sum, chairman of the Democratic Party, the biggest opposition party here, said in a telephone interview yesterday that democracy advocates did not have the votes to defeat the security bill and could only hope that Tung would postpone the vote because of Tuesday's march.
The march does appear to have rattled pro-government politicians. Ma Lik, secretary-general of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, one of the two main pro-government parties, strongly criticized Tung yesterday.
Ma said that if Tung demands a vote next week, his party's 10 lawmakers in the 60-member Legislative Council would support the bill. But Ma questioned the wisdom of proceeding after the demonstration."I think the government should review their policy, listen to the people," he said in a telephone interview. Later he added, "The government has not tried their best to make people understand the content of the law."