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China's looming shadow over Hong Kong sparks new concern

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- More than three years after China assumed control of Hong Kong, the shadow being cast by authorities in Beijing is growing larger.

The clearest sign is last week's abrupt resignation of the territory's No. 2 official, the British-trained civil service chief Anson Chan. Chan was a vocal defender of the autonomy China promised the territory after Great Britain relinquished control of Hong Kong in 1997.

She clashed repeatedly with her boss, Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, and was sharply rebuked by Chinese leaders last fall.

Chan denied rumors that she was leaving because of personal differences with Tung or a reprimand from Beijing.

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But to many here, her departure marks a worrying turning point for Hong Kong.

"People always said that after 1997, China would honor their promises for a while and then come down more and more heavy handed," said Danny Gittings of the South China Morning Post. "There is a concern that many people in Hong Kong have that this process has started."

Attention turns to treatment of Falun Gong

The next major test could be how Hong Kong treats the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China. Its supporters staged rallies last weekend to protest Chinese repression, infuriating Beijing.

Now there is concern that despite guarantees of political freedom here, the administration of Chief Executive Tung, seeking to please Beijing, may impose new curbs on the group,

"With several demonstrations in Hong Kong, there are signals that the chief executive is very unhappy about it, the central government is also very unhappy about it, so we are worried that something will be done to Falun Gong," said Lee Cheuk-yan of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

This week, a human rights organization released a video on the Internet showing Falun Gong members scuffling with Immigration department officials at Hong Kong Airport. A dozen Falun Gong adherents were prevented from attending last weekend gathering, and others were detained and questioned for hours. Critics believe worse could follow.

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government urged the territory's court of final appeal to seek Chinese guidance before ruling on a case about the right of abode here.

This is the second time in two years that the Hong Kong authorities have sought to involve Beijing in influencing a local Supreme Court decision. It is another sign, critics worry, that the freedom and autonomy promised to Hong Kong is under threat.

ASIANOW


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