Patten 'snubs rural areas' by ending forums

GOVERNOR Chris Patten has been accused of letting down rural residents by discontinuing New Territories public forums on his policy address.

Rural leaders said Mr Patten was snubbing residents and trying to sidestep challenges.

Only one forum is planned for the general public this year with a separate session for tertiary students, both in urban areas.

But about 400 admission tickets for this year's public forum at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre were snapped up within 45 minutes yesterday morning.

The session will be held at the centre's Studio Theatre on October 10, coinciding with the Double Tenth Festival. It runs from 6 pm to 7.15 pm.

Last year, only half of the 3,000 ticket-holders turned up at the two forums at the Cultural Centre's Concert Hall (2,100 seats) and Sha Tin Town Hall's Auditorium (1,400 seats).

The session for tertiary students and staff will be on October 6, the day after his policy speech, from 6 pm to 7.15 pm at the 300-seat Lecture Theatre I at City Polytechnic of Hong Kong.

Government House spokesman Tse Cheung-hing said: 'It should not be linked with the Governor's popularity. He wants to try new venues to meet people.' Legislator and Heung Yee Kuk councillor Tang Siu-tong said: 'Mr Patten must be too lazy to put on more shows. It demonstrates clearly that he pays no heed to rural people.

'But in some sense I am in sympathy with him. He is no longer popular and it is cruel if he has to stand alone on the stage of a grand hall to speak to two or three listeners only.'