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Major Hong Kong democratic party disbands amid China security clampdown

By James Pomfret and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) - One of Hong Kong's biggest democratic parties said on Saturday it would disband after a vote by its party members, dealing another blow to the city's already beleaguered democratic opposition under pressure from China.

In recent years, Hong Kong's opposition has been hit by a China-imposed national security law and overhaul of the electoral system that has largely sidelined democrats from local politics.

Alan Leong, one of the Civic Party's founding members and the current chairman, told reporters that 30 of 31 members had voted to wind up the party, with only one abstaining.

"The world is ever changing. History will tell. Today, the Civic Party is bidding Hong Kong farewell. We hope Hong Kong people will live in the moment with a hopeful and not too heavy heart. Live in truth and believe in tomorrow," Leong, a senior barrister, wrote in a statement.

The Civic Party, founded in 2006, had been a major democratic force in the financial hub that returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, alongside the Democratic Party, performing strongly in local legislative and district polls.

The party was known for representing professionals in Hong Kong including lawyers, accountants and scholars, and was considered a more moderate democratic voice that appealed to the city's large ranks of middle class voters.

China's imposition of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, however, saw a number of its members arrested including former lawmakers Alvin Yeung and Jeremy Tam.

Yeung and Tam have been detained for over two years and denied bail in an ongoing national security case, while another senior member, Margaret Ng, was convicted of unlawful assembly.

Others have fled into exile.

Following on the heels of the national security law, China in 2021 revamped Hong Kong's electoral system, further reducing democratic representation while introducing a mechanism to vet politicians' loyalty to Beijing.

The measures were part of what critics such as the United States say are Beijing's efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip over the global financial hub, and to further erode the city's democracy and freedoms that were guaranteed for at least 50 years when it returned to Chinese rule.

"We had our eyes fixed on the benchmark of democracy," Leong added in the Civic Party statement. "While democracy is yet to be accomplished, we hope the concepts of accountability and open government have been adequately introduced to the people."

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities described the electoral revamp as a progressive democratic step to ensure only pro-China "patriots" govern Hong Kong.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang, Joyce Zhou; Editing by Kim Coghill)