HONG KONG, Oct 13 (Reuters) Hong Kong's leader, Donald Tsang, apologised today for saying that extreme moves towards full democracy in the city could result in chaos on the scale seen in China during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
''I am very sorry that I made an inappropriate remark concerning the Cultural Revolution ... I wish to retract that remark,'' Tsang said in a short statement, adding that he shared the same aspirations as Hong Kong people in wanting to implement universal suffrage as soon as possible.
His about-turn came after lawmakers from across the political spectrum criticised him for the remarks, which the Beijing-backed leader made yesterday during an interview with Hong Kong's RTHK radio.
''It's outrageous. The Cultural Revolution was in fact mob rule and it showed a total failure of democracy,'' said Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong.
Describing Tsang's notion of democracy as ''distorted and misconceived'', Ho added: ''The damage to Tsang's credibility is already done and people will doubt his commitment to democracy.
His remark, made off-the-cuff, shows his genuine feelings towards democracy.'' During the radio programme, Tsang warned that democratic reforms, if taken to the extreme, could compromise social stability and the government's ability to govern.
''If we go to the extreme, you have the Cultural Revolution for instance in China, where people take everything into their hands, then you cannot govern the place,'' Tsang said.
The chaotic Cultural Revolution, instigated by China's late paramount leader Mao Zedong, mobilised radical youth in political campaigns marked by purges, jailings, killings and suicides.
''But the Cultural Revolution wasn't really an extreme example of democracy was it?,'' the radio presenter asked Tsang, to which he replied: ''(It) was the people taking power into their own hands.
Now this is what you mean by democracy if you take it to the full swing.'' Hong Kong's pro-democratic camp has agitated for direct elections by 2012, but recent signs have suggested Beijing is cold on such swift progress, preferring 2017 at the earliest.
REUTERS PD PM1444