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May 29, 2017

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HK Law Society president resigns over support for Beijing

HONG KONG--The head of Hong Kong's Law Society resigned Tuesday following a no-confidence vote after he backed a Chinese government policy document which many lawyers saw as a threat to the rule of law and judicial independence in the city.

China in June issued its first ever white paper stipulating how Hong Kong should be governed in what was widely interpreted as a warning to the city not to overstep the boundaries of its autonomy.

It included an assertion that judges should safeguard national security and sovereignty, a sentiment which has angered many in the city's legal community who consider it an affront to their judicial independence.

The Law Society sent a strong rebuke to Beijing after it passed a vote of no confidence in Lam on Thursday, with 2,392 of its 8,000 members supporting the motion while 1,478 voted against.

"To preserve the unity of the Law Society, I will hand in my resignation letter to the council, with immediate effect," Lam told reporters Tuesday.

"I reserve my own rights to my own opinion on the entire issue," he said.

The vote by the lawyers also said Lam should withdraw his support for the white paper.

Lam in June called the white paper a "positive" document, despite growing anger in the city over perceived interference by Beijing.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain on July 1, 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement, which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest

But public discontent is at its highest for years notably over Beijing's insistence that it vet candidates before the vote for the city's next leader in 2017.

More than a thousand lawyers all dressed in black took to the streets of Hong Kong in June in a silent march against interference by Beijing in the city's judiciary.

After the publication of the white paper, the Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement that judges should safeguard judicial independence as they are not the government's "administrators."

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