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Cross-border rail protests heighten Hong Kong- China tensions

Posted by Author on January 7, 2010

DPA, via, Jan. 7, 2010 –

Hong Kong – In a protest likely to heighten political tensions with Beijing, thousands of Hong Kong activists are expected to join a demonstration against a cross-border rail link. Opponents of the proposed 8.6-billion-US-dollar high-speed rail link are calling on 10,000 people to surround Hong Kong’s legislature Friday when politicians vote on whether to approve funding.

The protest comes days after an estimated 30,000 people took part in a pro-democracy march in Hong Kong that ended in scuffles between police and activists outside the Beijing Liaison Office.

A prominent pro-Beijing politician said the Chinese leadership had “lost trust” in Hong Kong following the march and said it would make China less likely to allow the city full democracy.

Friday’s protest, similar in style to the 1999 protest in which around 10,000 Falun Gong supporters surrounded the Chinese leadership complex in Zhongnanhai, is likely to further raise tensions.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader Donald Tsang was recently told by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to better handle “deep-rooted conflicts” in the city of 7 million – seen as a reference to political unrest.

The construction of the 26-kilometre rail link, the world’s most expensive stretch of railway per kilometre according to critics, has polarized opinions in the wealthy city.

Supporters of the government-backed scheme say the line is essential to plug Hong Kong into China’s nationwide high-speed rail network while opponents say it is unnecessary and too costly.

Transport Minister Eva Cheng this week predicted the city would lose 5 million Hong Kong dollars (644,751 US dollars) a day in business if it did not go ahead with the rail link.

Legislators were due to vote on financing a month ago but the vote was postponed because of stalling tactics by opponents.

The issue coincides with a fierce debate over proposed electoral reforms in Hong Kong which pro-democracy advocates say do not go far enough towards universal suffrage for the city.

Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, was technically entitled to full democracy from 2007 under the terms of its mini-constitution.

However, Beijing intervened to rule out universal suffrage until at least 2020, saying that the city of 7 million was still too politically immature.

Copyright DPA

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