Police Chief Predicts Tranquility

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HONG KONG: TIME's Hong Kong Bureau Chief Sandra Burton reports that Eddie Hui, the well-regarded commander of Hong Kong's 27,000 police officers, expects handover day to go smoothly, and intends to handle the expected deluge of protesters gently. "If you ask me as a law enforcer if there will be any change in our policy regarding demonstrators," Hui told Burton, "I say no, because we respect the right to protest. Provided they act within the law, we will facilitate them." Defining those boundaries won't be easy for Hui, since exactly what is legal has become unclear as China prepares to take charge. No problem. Hui says he's a practical man: "If you're facing a crowd of several thousand people and one or two start shouting 'down with so and so,' do you just force your way in and arrest them? No, because you would make things far worse. But is that a breach of the law? That's for somebody else to decide." As Burton notes, although Hui, 53, remembers the riots that broke out throughout Hong Kong in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre, he doubts that the impending change of sovereignty will precipitate the same sort of violence. "This is a remarkable change, but Hong Kong people are very adaptable. They have had some 13 years to accept the reality, and they do." Beijing, however, is not making such easy assumptions. On Monday, China finalized a plan with Britain to allow some 500 People's Liberation Army forces into Hong Kong in advance of the handover. The question is whether those troops will be as understanding as Hui's.