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HK pro-democracy lawmakers vow to quit after govt sacks 4 colleagues

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Protest comes after local govt axes four colleagues from city assembly

HONG KONG Pro-democracy opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong said yesterday they would resign in protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city assembly after Beijing gave local authorities new powers to curb dissent.

The Chinese Parliament earlier adopted a resolution allowing the city's executive to expel lawmakers deemed to be advocating Hong Kong independence, colluding with foreign forces or threatening national security, without having to go through the courts.

Shortly afterwards, the local government announced the disqualification of four out of the 19 opposition assembly members. The four had previously been barred from running for re-election as authorities deemed their pledge of allegiance to be insincere.

At a news conferencewhich started with all opposition lawmakers holding hands, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-Wai said: "We can no longer tell the world that we still have 'one country, two systems'; this declares its official death."

The moves will raise further concerns about the level of Hong Kong's autonomy, promised under the one country, two systems formula when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

Opposition members of the city assembly, all part of the moderate old guard of democrats, say they have tried to make a stand against what many people in Hong Kong see as Beijing's whittling away of freedoms and institutional checks and balances.

"My mission as a legislator to fight for democracy and freedom cannot continue, but I would certainly go along if Hong Kong people continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong," disqualified lawmaker Kwok Ka-Ki told reporters.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she welcomed diverse opinion in the 70-seat legislature but the law had to be applied.

Analysts say mass resignations remove democracy activists' access to a forum where they could question policymakers and make them more accountable to public opinion.

But staying could have been perceived by their supporters as legitimising Beijing's move and led to discord.

"Both staying and leaving have their own difficulties," said associate professor of government and public administration Ma Ngok at Chinese University of Hong Kong. - REUTERS