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Daily Archives: September 6, 2008

Hong Kong readying for LEGCO elections

Image   Hong Kong’s Opposition parties are expected to lose ground in legislative polls this weekend as bread-andbutter issues overshadow the push for democratic reform and nationalist feelings run high after the Olympics.

Issues such as wages, inflation relief, education costs, and poverty alleviation have dominated campaign debates ahead of Sunday’s election for the 60-member legislature. As a result, pro-democratic, anti-government lawmakers have braced themselves for losses. “Democratic issues are no longer the theme of this election,’’ said political analyst James Sung of City University. “The pro-democracy camp can no longer drive up discussion on
full democracy in their campaign.’’ About 3.4 million of the territory’s 7 million people are registered to vote for candidates vying for 30 legislative seats. The body’s other half is picked by special interest groups. When the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 it was granted a wide degree of autonomy and a pledge it would ultimately be allowed to directly elect all legislators and its leader. The central government in Beijing announced last year Hong Kong could elect its own leader in 2017 and all of its legislators in 2020, at the earliest. The political atmosphere was highly charged during the last legislative races in 2004. At the time, Hong Kong was still smarting from the devastating SARS outbreak, an economic downturn, and an aborted attempt by the government to push through an anti-subversion bill that many viewed as an attack on civil liberties. Voters showed their dissatisfaction by handing more seats to the Democrat Party and its allies. This time around, analysts say, conservative parties such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong
could see gains as the mainland’s economy booms and a sense of nationalism grows after the Olympics. Audrey Eu, a pro-democracy candidate who leads the Civic Party, conceded that the Beijing Olympics have made it harder to get through to voters. A pro-Beijing party leader, Tam Yiu-chung, said he thought this year’s campaign was “slightly easier’’ than four years ago. “The overall social atmosphere matches with what we have been advocating for such as a harmonized society,’’ Tam said. A record 55 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2004 vote.

US envoy in Beijing for North Korea nuclear talks

US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill arrived in Beijing yesterday for talks with his Asian counterparts, an official said, in an effort to determine whether North Korea had begun rebuilding its atomic plant.
North Korea last week announced that it had stopped disabling its Yongbyon nuclear complex, and would consider rebuilding it, because Washington had failed to drop it from a terrorism blacklist.
The news was a potential major setback for the six-nation talks — involving China, the United States, North and South Korea, Russia and Japan — that began in 2003 with the aim of ending the communist state's nuclear activities.
The Yongbyon reactor is at the heart of the North's decades-old nuclear weapons drive and produced the plutonium for its October 2006 atomic test, as well as for an unknown number of bombs.
Hill landed in Beijing on Friday afternoon and was due to meet with his six-nation counterparts from China, South Korea and Japan, US embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said.
It was unclear whether North Korean envoy Kim Kye-Gwan would come to Beijing for the meetings.
Before leaving for Seoul on Friday, South Korean envoy Kim Sook said the deadlock in the six-nation process needed to be broken quickly.
"It is an important moment in which North Korea should resume the disablement measures," he said.
The negotiations have suffered countless setbacks and delays, but in a landmark deal signed last year, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons in return for economic aid and diplomatic recognition.
In June, the North handed in a long-overdue declaration of its nuclear activities, and blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon.
In response, the United States eased trade sanctions, but did not take it off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, as stipulated under the deal, because it did not agree on how the declaration could be verified.
Washington has demanded strict inspections of atomic sites, including sampling of materials — something Pyongyang rejects as a violation of its sovereignty.
US White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday that Hill would send a message to Pyongyang that the United States still planned to reward the North if it met conditions agreed to between the six nations.