Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa on Thursday afternoon ended days of speculation by officially announcing his resignation. Mr Tung told a special news conference that he had formally submitted his application to resign to the central government in Beijing. He cited health reasons as the main reason for his departure.
"Because I have been working very hard for a long time, my health has deteriorated since late last year," Mr Tung said adding that he also decided to step down because he believed this would be in the best interests of Hong Kong.
Asked by a reporter if Beijing had ordered him to step down, Mr Tung said: "I am already 68 and feeling worn out."
"These have been turbulent times, full of hardship for Hong Kong people. I have done my best to serve the people, and have always worked hard,'' he noted. "I owe a great debt of gratitude to Hong Kong people who have coped with very difficult times."
In the last few years of his term in office Mr Tung was challenged by Hong Kong citizens and opposition parties who repeatedly demonstrated for greater democracy. Restrictions on civil liberties, economic recession, scandals involving the executive itself have taken their toll on the magnate-turned-politician's tenure.
Mr Tung was the first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after it was returned to China. He replaced Chris Patten, the last British colonial Governor, on July 1, 1997.
Despite popular demands for direct election of the Chief Executive, Beijing will handpick Mr Tung's successor. Mr Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the current Chief Secretary for the Administration of the Special Administrative Region, is the leading candidate for the post. The decision might be officially announced this coming Saturday, March 12.
Some delegates at the National People's Congress, that is currently underway in the Chinese capital, have said that a new Tsang administration will complete Tung's term in office until the next elections scheduled for 2007.