Hong Kong holds fast to sanctions deadline for the Philippines

HONG KONG (AFP) - While offers of aid for the Philippines pour in from around the world following the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, Hong Kong has vowed to press ahead with sanctions on Manila over a 2010 hostage crisis.

The threat has sparked outrage among some Hong Kongers and the city's Filipino migrant workers, whose homeland is reeling from the impact of the record-breaking typhoon that killed thousands and devastated entire coastal communities.

The United Nations has appealed for US$301 (S$376) million of aid, with the US and Britain among leading donors and China on Thursday stepping up its initially modest response to dispatch rescue materials worth S$2 million.

But the southern Chinese city, a former British colony that is now semi-autonomous, has refused to drop its warning of impending economic sanctions unless the Philippines offers a formal apology for a 2010 hostage crisis.

Eight Hong Kongers were killed and seven others wounded in the incident after negotiations broke down between Philippine authorities and a former police officer who hijacked a Manila tour bus.

Last Tuesday, the city's leader Mr Leung Chun-ying said he will take "necessary actions to apply sanctions" if he does not see concrete steps taken to resolve the issue within a month.

Asked Wednesday if the disaster would impact on the deadline, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Mrs Carrie Lam said: "At this moment, we don't have this intention." Mrs Lam added that the hostage situation and the devastation in the Philippines caused by Haiyan were "entirely separate issues".

The remarks angered some Hong Kong web users and the city's Filipino community, who number some 150,000.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has refused to apologise on behalf of the country for the Manila hostage situation, insisting the deaths were primarily caused by the actions of the hostage taker.

The city's lawmakers have mooted a cancellation of its visa-free arrangement for visitors from the Philippines as well as possible trade sanctions.

In a response to the disaster, the Hong Kong government plans to boost its existing reserve for overseas disaster relief from HK$9 million to HK$49 million, which aid groups can then apply for.