Hong Kong: Democracy on hold

China's most powerful legislative committee has ruled Hong Kong will not have direct elections for its next leader in 2007, crushing hopes in the Chinese territory for a quick move toward full democracy.

The territory will be allowed to make changes to its electoral methods but they must come gradually, said Tsang Hin-chi, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The decision ruled out what many Hong Kong people have been demanding – the right to elect a successor to the unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2007 and all lawmakers in 2008. Mr Tsang said the Standing Committee voted almost unanimously to approve its new guidelines. Opposition Hong Kong lawmaker Fred Li accused Beijing of “dictating Hong Kong policy” without regard to public opinion.

He said the decision violated Beijing’s promise to give Hong Kong a great deal of autonomy.