| HONG KONG
HONG KONG May 29 The top official in Macau, the
world's gambling capital, said on Thursday a bill providing
lavish perks for senior civil servants would be withdrawn days
after the largest protest in the enclave since China restored
control over it in 1999.
The climbdown represents the first time the government has
taken heed of a large civic movement in Macau, a former
Portuguese territory with autonomy and provisions for free
speech much like neighbouring Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Fernando Chui told reporters he would inform
the legislature that the bill was being withdrawn.
"I will not, myself, accept a single cent. I will donate
everything," Chui said after an executive council meeting.
"People don't have to worry. Even though I'm fat, I will not
make myself fat."
Macau's 600,000 residents have traditionally taken a passive
approach to government policy as substantial social benefits,
rapid economic growth and low unemployment blunt discontent over
inequality and declining quality of life.
The scrapped bill would have awarded generous compensation
packages to outgoing officials and granted Macau's top leader
immunity from criminal charges. Provisions included a monthly
payout to the outgoing chief executive totalling 70 percent of
his salary and a one-off grant to retiring officials.
Organisers said more than 20,000 massed outside the
legislative assembly on Sunday to denounce the bill, citing
housing, education and health issues which they say have been
left unaddressed as politicians and business magnates boosted
Macau's economy relies heavily on its 35 often vast and
glitzy casinos, a sharp contrast to the narrow cobblestone
streets and pastel-coloured houses left from Portuguese rule.
Gaming taxes account for over 80 percent of government revenues.
Residents say channelling resources into the gaming industry
has left infrastructure neglected and crumbling. Protesters have
also demanded restrictions on the inflow of foreign workers and
checks on rising housing prices.
"The pressure is too strong. This is the first time since
returning to China with such a large number of young people
participating in a social movement," said Larry So, a political
commentator based in Macau.
Allegations of corruption and mismanagement have long
surfaced in Macau. One of the territory's most senior government
officials, Ao Man-long, was arrested in 2007 and subsequently
conficted of bribe-taking, money laundering and abuse of power.
Protests are far less common than in Hong Kong, where
residents often use expanded rights to free speech to stage
increasingly intense protests over perceived interference by
Beijing in local affairs.
But young Macanese have joined the political fray,
mobilising for last weekend's protest through social media such
"The scrapping of the bill is a small victory," said Sou Ka
Ho of Macau Conscience - one of the protest's organisers.
"From now on, if the Macanese people face injustice, we must
no longer think that we can't change anything. Instead, we
should ask ourselves what we can do to change things."
(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Ron Popeski)