Hong Kong Begins 100-Day Countdown to Handover

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Mar 23, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/23/97

<TITLE>ClariNews: Hong Kong Begins 100-Day Countdown to Handover</TITLE>
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<H1><CLARI-ITEM HEADLINE>Hong Kong Begins 100-Day Countdown to Handover</CLARI-ITEM></H1>
<I><B><CLARI-ITEM COPYRIGHT>Copyright 1997 by Reuters</CLARI-ITEM></B></I> / <I><CLARI-ITEM DATE>Sun, 23 Mar 1997 1:10:22 PST</CLARI-ITEM></I><P>
<P> HONG KONG (Reuter) - Ominous gray clouds scudded over Hong
Kong Sunday as the British colony marked the 100-day countdown
to the handover, but there were few physical signs of gloom and
doom in the wealthy community of six million.</P>
<P> More than 7,000 Hong Kong people took to the streets to the
din of cymbols and kettle drums in a patriotic fervour to
celebrate the impending reunion with China at midnight on June
30, 1997.</P>
<P> A stone's throw away, thousands more, most of them
westerners and swelled by an influx of visitors, indulged in the
ritualistic orgy that has built up around the annual
international Rugby seven-a-side tournament.</P>
<P> The tournament was honoured this year, the last under
British rule, when Rugby Authorities made it into the world cup
<P> The 28th and last British governor, Chris Patten, described
Hong Kong as running as smoothly as a Rolls Royce limousine --
but warned China against tinkering with the finely tuned
machinery that is the Hong Kong of 1997.</P>
<P> But for the majority of Hong Kong's hardworking citizenry,
it was a normal Sunday. A chance for a lie-in, a family
gathering at a restaurant -- a day off from work.</P>
<P> With just 100 days to go, Hong Kong is awash in a sea of
differing emotions.</P>
<P> Some, like the street revellers, are delighted that more
than 150 years of Chinese humiliation is about to end.</P>
<P> ``This is a grand and great occasion. In just 100 days, we
will return to the Chinese motherland,'' said chief organiser
Raymond Wu as the revellers gathered in Victoria Park -- named
after the queen who reigned when Britain, at the height of its
imperial powers, wrested Hong Kong from China's weak and
crumbling Qing dynasty in the mid-19th century.</P>
<P> ``We welcome the washing away of over a century of
humiliation and shame,'' Wu said to a burst of applause.</P>
<P> Others fret, particularly the pro-democracy camp, about
their future under a China that has already put in place plans
to dilute civil liberties and dissolve the elected legislative
council -- undoing democratic reforms spearheaded by Patten.</P>
<P> A handful of demonstrators, their mouths taped shut in what
they said was a symbol of things to come, took up position
around the base of Queen Victoria's statue and held up placards
condemning China's brutal military crackdown on student-led
demonstrators around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.</P>
<P> Many people are simply keeping their fingers crossed.</P>
<P> But Hong Kong, as it enters the last leg of its drawn out
transition from British colony to Special Administrative Region
(SAR) of China, has defied those who forecast a society in
chaos, of panic, economic collapse and deserted buildings.</P>
<P> Patten said Hong Kong had reached this moment in its history
in first class condition.</P>
<P> He cited a poll conducted earlier this month by the 1997
Transition Project at Hong Kong's Baptist University that found
that 90 percent of the people here were happy with life.</P>
<P> Patten said the views that Hong Kong would quickly adjust to
the rolling back of freedoms or of more authoritarian government
were dubious.</P>
<P> ``Hong Kong is, as I said recently, a smoothly functioning
community. It's like a Rolls Royce,'' Patten said.</P>
<P> ``All you need to do if you're in charge is to slip into the
driving seat, switch on the ignition and away you go.</P>
<P> ``I don't quite see the point of lifting the bonnet to
tinker with the engine. That only raises worries about whether
it will work so well, and whether you may be persuaded by some
people to start stripping it down for spare parts.''</P>
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