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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hong Kong Critics Blast Civil Liberties Proposals

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's future government drew a blast of criticism Thursday after launching proposals to curb civil liberties when the British colony returns to Chinese rule July 1.

Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa's team sprang to the defensive, arguing that the proposals were necessary and responsible, and Beijing chimed in with its support.

But Tung's plan to put new limits on the right to demonstrate and form political organizations came under fire from pro-democracy politicians, departing British Governor Chris Patten and newspaper editorials.

"It astonishingly argues that the restrictions are needed because 'social stability' is under threat in Hong Kong," said legislator Christine Loh.

"Why is our future chief executive publishing such alarmist nonsense? It is seriously damaging to confidence in Hong Kong's future for him to do so," she said.

Tung launched the proposed curbs Wednesday for a three-week public consultation process. The proposals require demonstrators to get police permission before taking to the streets and bar local groups from having ties with foreign political organizations.

They were widely expected after China's National People's Congress, or parliament, in February declared parts of Hong Kong's Public Order and Societies ordinances incompatible with the Basic Law, the territory's future constitution promulgated by Beijing.

A source in Tung's office defended the proposals as necessary to avoid a legal vacuum upon handing Hong Kong over July 1.

The source stressed the proposals were not set in stone, and said he hoped that something all sides could accept would emerge after the public consultation period.

Patten said the curbs could backfire.

"Very often you know people produce exactly the political problems that they want to avoid when they try to slap down on people's freedoms in the name of greater stability," Patten said.

The colonial administration said the proposals could give the future executive unacceptably broad powers.

While polls show that confidence in Hong Kong's future is strong, awareness of how different China is remains keen, and memories of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 are still fresh.

Analysts said the curbs answer Beijing's fears that Hong Kong could be used as a base to subvert China. Sunny Loh, a political analyst at Hong Kong University, said the biggest impact would be the ban on foreign funding for Hong Kong political organizations, many of which, such as the popular Democratic Party, raise money abroad.

"It's a retrograde step ... Local groups will have to deal with their relations with foreign countries very carefully."