06/27/2007, 00.00
HONG KONG – CHINA
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July 1 pro-democracy march to go ahead without restrictions

Appeal Board lifts restrictions imposed by the police on July 1 rally, which falls on handover anniversary. The right to demonstrate is a fundamental constitutional right. Chinese President Hu will be in town for the anniversary but is not likely to wait around for the march.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An appeal board has overturned police limits on the July 1 rally for universal suffrage—an annual event which occurs on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to mainland China. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to be present at the event.

In a judgment delivered yesterday, the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions—which considers appeals against police decisions—ruled that demonstrating was a fundamental right of the population and lifted all restrictions demanded by Police Senior Superintendent Cheung Tak-keung.

Police had authorised the use of only one lane for the march between 3 pm to 6 pm to avoid it from interfering with planned handover anniversary fireworks. Police restrictions made march organisers liable for criminal prosecution if they were breached.

March organisers like the Civil Human Rights Front and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said restricting marchers to one lane would hamper the march's swift completion.

The board ordered that all westbound lanes of roads used for the march should be opened to the protesters. It also ruled the march should take place between 2.30 pm and 6.30 pm, telling the police to show flexibility if marchers were still on the streets after the prescribed time.

Board chairman Raymond Sears QC, a retired High Court judge, said that expressing one's opinion is a far more important right than watching fireworks personally.

Since 2004 this is only the second appeal the board has allowed.

The July 1 march has become increasingly political since 2003 when half a million people took to the streets to oppose an anti-sedition law and criticise the then Chinese-appointed chief executive.

This year pro-democracy activists are urging the population to come in great numbers to the July 1 rally to demand universal suffrage, which according to the Special Autonomous Region’s constitution could be conceded after 2007 but which Beijing has postponed indefinitely.

Chinese President Hu will lead a top-level delegation to Hong Kong from June 29 to July 1 to take part in the celebrations.

It is his first visit since 1999 and also his first as president. For security reasons his schedule has not been made public but it will include many meetings, official dinners and visits about town and with local families. But he will probably leave before the march begins.

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