Feisty Hong Kong Lawmaker Provokes China

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 30, 2007; 5:20 PM

HONG KONG -- Leung Kwok-hung regularly disrupts legislative sessions with pro-democracy outbursts. He has shown up to voting centers in a pig mask and Chinese emperor's jacket. Most recently, he burned photos of the Chinese president during the leader's visit to Hong Kong.

With his waist-length ponytail and trademark Che Guevara T-shirts, Leung is a radical among Hong Kong's gray-suited lawmakers. He is also a rabble-rousing reminder of the greater freedoms islanders enjoy compared to their mainland neighbors.

After Britain returned the international financial hub to China in 1997, some feared communist Beijing would clamp down on free speech and assembly.

In 2003, half a million people took to the streets when the Hong Kong government tried to push through a series of Beijing-proposed security laws that were perceived as drastically restricting freedoms. Some say the outcry helped Leung win a legislative seat in a surprising victory a few months later.

He continues to shout out slogans calling for democracy during legislative sessions while his fellow lawmakers look on in bemusement.

On Friday, Leung led a dozen activists protesting outside the Government House where Chinese President Hu Jintao was to have dinner with Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang during a trip to mark 10 years since the territory's handover.

A wall of police blocked the way, leading to a scuffle and a tense standoff. Leung then set fire to photos of Hu.

"Hu Jintao is a turtle," he shouted, using a traditional Chinese insult meaning the Chinese president was afraid. "If he doesn't want to know the Hong Kong people's wishes and ideas, why is he here?'"

Leung insists he is not anti-China. "What I'm against is one-party dictatorship," he told The Associated Press on Friday. He says he wears the Che T-shirts because he considers the South American revolutionary "a hero of the people" who favored a sort of socialism different from the "dictatorship" in China.

While some denounce Leung as a headline grabber, others praise him for challenging the Hong Kong and Beijing governments.

Leung, also known as "Long Hair," has never hesitated to push China's hottest buttons. His protests always dwell on the 1989 crackdown of the pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square and Hong Kong's right to directly elect its own leader.

He once shouted "Long Live Democracy" at a hotel in the southern city of Guangzhou where pro-democracy legislators were invited to meet with Communist Party officials for the first time. Leung wore a black T-shirt with the slogan "We will never forget" _ a reference to Tiananmen Square.

He was stopped by security guards and told to change his shirt before being allowed into a room with Guangdong province's top Communist Party leader, Zhang Dejiang.

He also objects to the selection of Hong Kong's leader by a small circle of power-brokers loyal to Beijing. During the territory's first contested leadership race this year, he showed up at voting centers wearing a pig mask and a gold Chinese emperor's jacket over a body suit bearing a skeleton pattern.

Leung said he was disappointed his demonstration Friday could not reach the Government House but vowed he would not be deterred.

"This shows Hong Kong is turning into a police state," he told The AP. "The Hong Kong government needs to learn how to be reasonable. They have to learn to listen to the people."

He had intended to petition Hu at a welcome banquet Saturday evening, which he was originally invited to attend. But he said later his invitation was canceled without explanation.

Steve Tsang, an expert on Hong Kong politics at Oxford University in Britain, said Hong Kong voters support Leung as long as he is a minority voice.

"You cannot have a political party of Long Hairs. Hong Kong people will not vote for it," he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press