Hong Kongers to protest in support of US whistleblower

Up to a thousand supporters of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden are expected to stage a protest in Hong Kong on Saturday to call on the government to protect him, organisers told AFP.

The protesters, set to include lawmakers, will march first to the US consulate and then government headquarters, urging the administration of the semiautonomous territory to not extradite the former CIA technical assistant who blew the lid on a vast electronic surveillance programme.

"We should protect him. We are calling on the HK government to defend freedom of speech," Tom Grundy, a rally spokesman said Wednesday.

"We don't know what law he may or may not have broken but if Beijing has a final say, they don't have to extradite him if he is a political dissident," he told AFP.

The city of seven million has maintained a degree of autonomy since its handover to China in 1997 but its mini constitution, the Basic Law, stipulates that Beijing has control over affairs related to defence and foreign affairs.

Officials of the territory and the US signed an extradition treaty a year before the city was handed over from Britain to China in 1997, but victims of political prosecution are not covered.

The treaty, signed with Beijing's "authorisation", also gives a right of refusal should extradition impinge on the "defence, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy" of China.

The 29-year-old Snowden identified himself as the source of the leak about a secret US Internet Surveillance programme over the weekend.

He said in a video interview from Hong Kong posted on website of The Guardian newspaper Sunday that he chose the city as a refuge because of its "strong tradition of free speech".

Since then, he has managed to evade journalists hunting him down and apparently checked out of his Hong Kong hotel on Monday.

The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper reported Wednesday the city's immigration department had no records of Snowden leaving the territory, citing unidentified sources, while the Guardian said: "It is thought he is now in a safe house."

Grundy told AFP that he expected a "four-figure" turnout on Saturday.

"We have got different groups involved. Everyone is welcome," Grundy said.

Several lawmakers have agreed to take part in a discussion forum following the protest, including prominent pro-democracy politician Albert Ho, according to Grundy.

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