HK, Philippines compromise over tourist deaths

HONG KONG (AP)

Hong Kong and the Philippines reached a compromise Wednesday over Hong Kong’s demands for an apology for the families of eight tourists killed in a bungled response to a 2010 Manila hostage-taking that soured relations.

“The Philippine government expresses its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy, and extends its most sincere condolences for the pain and suffering of the victims and their families,” Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, told reporters.

The statement avoided the word “apology,” which had been a longstanding demand of the survivors and families of the victims. The Hong Kong government and a spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III both said the agreement was “mutually satisfactory.”

The Philippine police chief has also written to the families.

The tourists were part of a group taken hostage on a Manila tour bus by a disgruntled former police officer.

The two sides had previously agreed on three other demands – compensation, holding responsible officials accountable and putting in place safety measures for tourists.

Relations became increasingly strained as they failed to resolve the deadlock over the apology, with Hong Kong announcing a first phase of sanctions in January in which it canceled visa-free access for holders of Philippine government passports. A Hong Kong lawmaker also floated the idea of banning Filipino maids, threatening employment for the more than 100,000 who work in the southern Chinese city and the remittances that are an important source of income for their families.

The agreement comes after months of talks between Hong Kong and Philippine officials, including a visit this week by a delegation including Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, a top aide to Aquino and the national police chief.

While Estrada, a former Philippine president, has previously apologized to the families, Aquino has expressed regret but has refused to apologize, saying the lone gunman and not the state is to be blamed for the tragedy.

Tse Chi-kin, whose brother, tour guide Masa Tse, was killed, said the phrase “sorrowful regret” was “marginally acceptable.”

“It’s still an apology,” Estrada told reporters. “We feel sorry for what happened.”

Following Wednesday’s announcement, Leung said the Hong Kong government has lifted the travel sanctions against the officials as well as a harsh travel warning for the Philippines.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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