Operators of public markets embroiled in a row over their contracts, due to expire this month, won a concession yesterday when food officials extended them for six months. But the move, revealed at a meeting of the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel, drew fierce opposition from all members, who demanded a 12-month extension, to match a freeze on stall rents that ends next June. More than a thousand disgruntled public market tenants staged a demonstration outside the Legco building before the meeting, venting their anger at what they called a 'dim-witted', 'unfair' and 'unilateral' move to renew the contracts. They complained the new contracts restricted their right to renew their tenancy and included demands for payments of rates, air conditioning and other service charges. Cheuk Wing-hing, director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, said the six-month extension would affect about 10,020 tenants whose contracts were due to expire this month. He said the extension and rent freeze also applied to the 2,690 tenants who had signed the new contract by yesterday. Gabriel Leung, undersecretary for food and health, said new clauses were introduced to contracts in response to criticism by Legco's Public Accounts Committee over mismanagement of markets and the practice of not charging tenants for rates and air conditioning. An Audit Commission report last year found the government had lost HK$160 million on its 104 public markets. Wong Chai-wai, convenor of the Alliance of Hong Kong Public Market Retailers, said: 'The department's decision to put the matter on hold shows that they know clearly there is something wrong with the contract renewal issue.' He said they had no plan to follow through with a plan to paralyse traffic in Central, which they threatened last month after talks with the department broke down.