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UPDATE 1-Hong Kong crafting "patriotic" oath for local councils, Beijing wants loyalists in charge

·2 min read

HONG KONG, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's government willgazette a bill later this week that will require community leveldistrict councils to pledge an oath of allegiance to theChinese-ruled city's mini-constitution, further stiflingdemocratic opposition.

Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Eric Tsangsaid politicians deemed insincere would be blocked from office,releasing details of the bill a day after a senior official inChina's cabinet said provisions should be made to ensure"patriots" were running Hong Kong.

"The law will fulfill the constitutional responsibility ofthe government," Tsang said.

"You cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not lovethe leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do notrespect it - this does not make sense," Tsang added. "Patriotismis holistic love."

Any district councillor suspended from office after failingthe loyalty test would be sent to court for formaldisqualification, and banned from contesting elections for fiveyears.

The bill potentially paves the way for the massdisqualification of pro-democracy politicians who took almostninety percent of 452 district council seats in Hong Kong in the2019 elections, humiliating the pro-Beijing camp.

While district councils decide little beyond community-levelissues, such as garbage collection and bus stops, Beijing andHong Kong authorities are determined that all publicinstitutions in the city must be run by people loyal to Beijing.

On Monday, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and MacaoAffairs Office of China's State Council, said Hong Kong can onlybe ruled by "patriots", a term he said includes people who loveChina, its constitution and the Communist Party and excludesanti-China "troublemakers.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam endorsed Beijing'sstance on Tuesday, saying the changes were needed to stop hatredof China and sustain the 'one country, two systems' governancemodel for the Asian financial hub.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council will debate the bill onMarch 17.

Before that, China's parliament will convene from March 5,and is expected to impose a series of electoral changes on HongKong, which critics say would strengthen the authoritarian turntaken in the city following the imposition of a sweepingnational security law in June 2020.

Tsang announced that once the oath-taking law is passed,four councillors would be disqualified given their earlierdisqualification from standing for Legislative Councilelections.

Henry Wong, a pro-democracy councillor from suburban YuenLong, said he was still deciding whether to take the oath underthe new law.

"This is just an act to legalise their brutal force indestroying democracy voices," he said.

The district councils are the only fully democraticinstitution in Hong Kong. Its Legislative Council is stackedwith pro-Beijing figures, while its chief executive is notdirectly elected.

The district councils account for about a tenth of the voteson a 1,200 member committee that meets every five years to electthe city's leader. That committee, by design, is also stackedwith pro-Beijing figures.(Reporting by Sharon Tam and Jessie Pang; Writing by GregTorode; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)