HONG KONG (AFP) — Hong Kong's leader has been forced to make an unprecedented apology after warning that democracy could lead to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, in which millions of Chinese were persecuted.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang said that democracy, if taken to the extreme, could spark scenes reminiscent of the disastrous decade-long purge of capitalist influence, which tore the country apart.
Tsang is currently spearheading the process of introducing universal suffrage into the former British colony.
The backlash over the comments, made during an interview to promote his annual policy address which skirted around the issue of democratic reform, forced the 63-year-old into the apology.
"I am very sorry that I made an inappropriate remark concerning the Cultural Revolution during a radio interview, and I wish to retract that remark," he said in a statement issued Saturday, in what is thought to be his first public apology since taking office.
"Hong Kong people treasure democracy and hope to implement universal suffrage as soon as possible. I share the same aspirations."
Tsang's initial comments were made during a radio interview on local broadcaster RTHK.
"If you go to the extreme (of democracy) you have the cultural revolution for instance in China. Then people take everything into their hands, then you cannot govern the place," he said.
Challenged by the interviewer whether the Communist-inspired purge was in fact a true example, Tsang said: "It was people taking power into their own hands. This is what we mean by democracy."
Universal suffrage was guaranteed when Hong Kong was handed back to China from colonial power Britain in 1997, but no specific timetable was established for introducing it.
Tsang won the "election" for the chief executive post earlier this year against a pro-democracy candidate, but the vote was limited to around 800 business and industrial elites, many pro-Beijing.
A consultation exercise on when to introduce elections for both the chief executive and the legislature was completed this week, and Tsang said he will make recommendations to Beijing once he has studied the findings.
Debate is raging in the city over when full elections should take place. Pro-democrats insist it should be 2012, but the mainland is thought to prefer a target of 2017 or later.
The Cultural Revolution began in 1966, when Communist chief Mao Zedong said that "representatives of the bourgeoisie" had infiltrated all levels of the party.
Students and workers, who became his "Red Guards", were empowered to hound millions across the country for perceived ideological impurity, leading to many Chinese fleeing, often to Hong Kong.
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