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Activists protest against costly Hong Kong-China railway

by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 7, 2010
Hundreds of Hong Kong activists surrounded government offices Friday to protest against an 8.6 billion-dollar railway that would connect the city with neighbouring Guangzhou in mainland China.

The protesters chanted "no railway" as lawmakers met transport officials to decide whether to approve funding for the project.

The rail would form part of China's national high-speed rail network and allow people to travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via Shenzhen in 48 minutes, just under half the current duration of the journey.

The local government said the project would be important in fostering economic ties between Hong Kong and major Chinese cities and hoped construction could be complete around 2015.

Critics said the public has not been properly consulted and questioned why it had to be so costly. They said it would benefit only developers while forcing villagers along the route to relocate.

Mirana Szeto, spokeswoman for the protesters, said the public had very little information about the project.

"What we see is a lack of consensus on the issue and public ignorance. We need more information and more time to debate -- more democratic and transparent processes for a sustainable future," she told AFP.

Lawmaker Alan Leong said the administration had handled the matter in a "very unprofessional, very unfair, and non-engaging" manner.

Leong asked why the project was so costly, as alternatives that could save taxpayers tens of billions of Hong Kong dollars had been offered by independent think-tanks.

He was also concerned that some members of the council held vested interests in the project.

"A few of my colleagues in the council are non-executive directors of listed companies who have indicated interest in bidding for some works tended by the government. A few own land along the proposed routing," he said.

Media reports said the police had 800 officers on standby, as authorities worried about a repeat of scuffles that broke out in the democracy march attended by thousands of people on the New Year's Day last week.

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