Stella Lee

06/26/2002 South China Morning Post Page 4

Police were last night accused of tightening controls against activists planning to demonstrate at Monday's handover anniversary by moving them 200 meters further away from dignitaries than in 1997.

At least four groups have contacted police requesting permission to demonstrate on July 1 when President Jiang [XX] and other leaders attend the fifth handover anniversary celebrations and the inauguration ceremony of the SAR's new ruling team at the Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai.

Police are now planning to designate two protest areas - one outside Immigration Tower and the other outside Central Plaza along Harbour Road.

A spokesman for Falun Gong, Chan Wing-kwong, said the group initially requested to stage a 250-people rally in Convention Avenue to call on state leaders to stop suppressing their fellow practitioners on the mainland.

But he said they were told that they could only stage their rally outside the Immigration Tower as Convention Avenue would be cordoned off.

"It seems the police have not considered the needs of demonstrators despite a lot of voices being raised against their tightening of controls," Mr Chan said.

Another group - abode seekers - requested permission to stage a demonstration near the ceremony venue. A member of the April 5th Action Group, Leung Kwok-hung, said protesters were allowed to stage demonstrations at the bus terminal outside the Great Eagle Centre during the handover ceremony on June 30, 1997.

Mr Leung said the new location, which was about 200 metres away from the site allowed in 1997, illustrated how the freedom of demonstrations in Hong Kong had been curbed over the past five years.

"The police used music to drown out our voices five years ago. They deprive us of our demonstration rights today," Mr Leung said.

Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Charles Wong Doon-yee said: "The two proposed demonstration areas are the nearest possible locations we can arrange for the protesters."