Battling Over Free Speech

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HONG KONG: Hours after the newly-seated provisional legislature ratified a law giving police the power to ban political demonstrations, more than 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators marched through the downtown area deriding China's form of government and demanding freedom of speech. Such protests may become more difficult starting Thursday, when all demonstrators must obtain a permit from local authorities before assembling. In an attempt to further calm fears of a crackdown, the Chinese leadership has promised Hong Kong citizens that soldiers assigned to garrison duty will be forbidden by law from involvement in Hong Kong's affairs and will not appear on the streets in armed vehicles. First impressions of the new military forces seemed to support Beijing's promise. The first wave arrived waving to crowds with few if any weapons in sight. Beijing's effort to smooth the transition went a step further when it declared its troops have boned up on Hong Kong's constitution, laws, customs and dialect. Overall, speculation that China's presence would be greeted with widespread hostility has so far proven unfounded as hundreds of citizens lined the roads, waving flags and applauding the Chinese military's arrival. The latest polls support an easing attitude towards Hong Kong's new rulers, finding 35.1 percent of the population greeting the handover positively, up from 29 percent Sunday.