If last week's striking expression of public fears over the government's proposals on Article 23 showed they must be listened to, yesterday's counter demonstration - a smaller but still robust affair - showed how difficult making those changes will be. Organisers from the Hong Kong Coalition for National Security Legislation claimed that representatives from 1,500 groups participated, a clear indication of the powerful and vociferous action pro-Beijing forces can generate. The SAR government is now left in a highly tricky situation when its public consultation period ends tomorrow. The community is polarised, yet the government's room for manoeuvre at this point is limited. Any attempt to publish a so-called white bill will be much more difficult after yesterday's action. To do so would immediately make the government look weak in the eyes of many influential figures, a highly unfortunate fact since such a move could ease many of the fears surrounding the legislation. It should be remembered, of course, the many people questioning the proposals are concerned at the government's methods above all else given the demands of the Basic Law. It would be normal after the course of most public consultation initiatives for amendments and tinkering to be made - something the government is now hinting will occur. But even this course could prove problematic, in another sign of the rod the government has created for its own back. Firstly, it is now working to a self-imposed deadline of July next year for new legislation to be in place. This, as the government has admitted, was one agreed to with Beijing despite the principles of 'one-country, two-systems'. Secondly, it will also face accusations of a climb-down, given the poisoned public arena. At the same time, this means it is far from clear whether it will now be able to win back crucial public support given the seeds of suspicion it has unwittingly sown. By appearing so eager to push ahead with legislation in such a combative manner - even despite the dangerously vague nature of its proposals - opinion has quickly gotten out of government control. While Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee deserves praise for the way she has seemingly taken on all-comers in the public arena, her at times strident delivery has made the process look 'consultative' in name only. A touch of diplomacy could have won her important ground. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa must now quickly marshal his internal forces and use the end of the public consultation as a brief pause for reflection on the lessons learned to forge a new way ahead. Undoubtedly easing the legislative timetable would cause him problems in some quarters. But it would clearly buy his administration a lot more time to do a proper selling job.