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REFILE-Hong Kong enacts controversial new anti-racism bill

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HONG KONG, July 10 (Reuters) - Hong Kong passed a landmark anti-racism bill on Thursday, with rights activists welcoming the breakthrough but also criticising the bill for not going far enough to fully enshrine minority rights.

The controversial race discrimination bill, passed by Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday after a decade-long fight, is aimed at guaranteeing racial equality amid perceived biases in the Chinese city toward diverse multi-ethnic groups.

“It’s not a perfect bill ... but given that the government had given us such low expectations, we’re pleased that it has passed after 11 years of campaigning,” said Vandana Rajwani, an equal rights campaigner in Hong Kong.

While seen as a positive first step to fill a long-standing legal vacuum by criminalising “discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of race”, the anti-racism bill also drew fire from some quarters for some major flaws.

Mainland Chinese immigrants, sometimes perceived as uncouth arrivistes by urbane Hongkongers, won’t be fully protected under the scope of the bill, while various government agencies, including the police force and immigration department, will be exempted from prosecution for discriminatory acts.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Stephen Lam, said including all government departments in the bill could “run the risk of an influx of litigation and complaints which ... are bound to detract government resources from proper use and would hamper efficient administration”.

While racial discrimination is rarely explicit in Hong Kong, ethnic minority groups have long complained of bias from the majority Chinese population, making it difficult at times to find jobs and school places -- or even to hail taxis.

“We want equal justice, no discrimination and same treatment. In malls they look at us as low. Their movements, actions show it. It’s sad for us,” said Rogene Liquiran, a Filipino maid who protested with dozens of others outside the city’s legislature.

Of Hong Kong’s 7 million people, 95 percent are ethnic Chinese while the remaining 5 percent include Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalis, many of whom made Hong Kong their home prior to 1997 when the city reverted from British to Chinese rule.

The city also has around 200,000 Filipino and Indonesian foreign domestic helpers. (Reporting by Amrita Sheokand; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by XXX)