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Hong Kong Leader Lauds New Security Law11/25 06:35

   

   HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam lauded the city's new national 
security law on Wednesday as "remarkably effective in restoring stability," 
despite criticism that it is severely narrowing the space for free speech and 
political opposition in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

   Lam said in her annual policy address that the law had prevented a return of 
political unrest and that bringing normalcy back to the political system is an 
urgent priority.

   Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong in June, aiming to crack down 
on dissent following months of anti-government protests in the city that at 
times descended into violence. Last year's protests were triggered by a 
proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to be 
sent to the mainland. The proposal was eventually scrapped.

   "Advocacies of Hong Kong independence and collusions with external forces 
have progressively subsided, some of the prominent figures have kept a low 
profile, radical organizations have ceased operations or dissolved," Lam said 
in her address.

   "After a year of social unrest with fear for personal safety, Hong Kong 
people can once again enjoy their basic rights and freedoms, according to the 
law," she added.

   Lam also criticized foreign governments for interfering in Hong Kong's 
affairs, saying it had jeopardized national security.

   The security law's passage has drawn strong criticism among rights groups 
and foreign governments, who say it betrays China's promise under the "one 
country, two systems" framework to allow Hong Kong to maintain its own legal 
system and civil liberties for 50 years following the handover from British to 
Chinese control in 1997.

   They point to the curtailing of free speech through the outlawing of 
statements advocating Hong Kong's independence and criticism of China, the 
pulling of books from public libraries with suspect political views and a new 
emphasis on "patriotic education" in schools.

   The U.S. responded to the new law by targeting a number of Chinese and Hong 
Kong officials responsible for implementing the legislation with travel bans 
and financial sanctions, Lam among them, and by moving to reduce Hong Kong's 
special status with the imposition of higher tariffs and visa restrictions.

   The U.S. and a number of other countries also suspended their extradition 
treaties with Hong Kong, while Britain said it would allow holders of British 
National (Overseas) passports extended stays and a path to citizenship. Taiwan 
opened an office to help Hong Kongers interested in moving to the island.

   Beijing has rejected all such actions and criticisms as brazen political 
interference and taken an ever-tougher stance on dissent in Hong Kong.

   Earlier this month, China passed a resolution disqualifying four 
pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers after they were accused of violating their 
oaths of office. The move prompted all of Hong Kong's pro-democracy legislators 
to resign en masse as a show of solidarity.

   Lam said Wednesday that Hong Kong has experienced one of its most severe 
political challenges over the past year.

   "One of our urgent priorities is to restore Hong Kong's constitutional order 
and political system from chaos," she said.

   She said the government would introduce a bill by the end of this year to 
amend local laws related to oath-taking, to "deal with those who have engaged 
in conduct that breaches the oath of the swearing-in."

   Lam's address had been postponed for more than a month so she could seek 
Beijing's support for various economic measures aimed at reviving Hong Kong's 
economy.

   A leader of pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong, Wu Chi-wai, criticized 
Lam's policy address, saying it was "taking Hong Kong people to a wrong 
direction" with policies including greater co-operation with China in areas 
such as finance, aviation and technology.

   "She bet the future of Hong Kong on the Greater Bay Area and the mainland 
economy. It will ruin the international city of Hong Kong," Wu said. "We cannot 
and should not ... put all our eggs on one particular economic territory."

   Wu and other remaining pro-democracy legislators are expected to officially 
step down from their positions by Dec. 1.

 
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