Hong Kong threatens sanctions on Philippines over 2010 hostage tragedy

By James Pomfret HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong threatened unspecified economic sanctions on the Philippines on Tuesday unless substantial progress is made within a month in talks demanding Manila's apology and compensation for a hostage tragedy three years ago. Hong Kong and the Philippines have close economic ties, with more than 100,000 Filipino domestic helpers working in the city, but emotions still run high over the 2010 killing of eight Hong Kong tourists in Manila by a sacked police officer. Speaking ahead of a debate by lawmakers calling for sanctions against the Philippines, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying pressed Manila for a "concrete and timely response". "I declare that unless we obtain steady progress within a month, the (Hong Kong) government will take necessary sanctions action," said Leung. Leung did not specify what the sanctions might be. Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has sought an apology and compensation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it supported Hong Kong's call for a prompt response. "We demand that the Philippines earnestly respond to the concerns of Hong Kong society about this, especially the reasonable demands of the family members of the hostages and take measures as soon as possible to give a response," spokesman Hong Lei said. "We also hope that the Hong Kong government can continue to maintain in communication with the Philippines about this issue." China and the Philippines also have overlapping claims of potentially oil- and gas-rich waters in the South China Sea. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news briefing the government is "working quietly to achieve a result that is mutually satisfactory", but declined to discuss details of Manila's response. Raul Hernandez, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Manila hoped the hostage row would not be linked to visa-free arrangements for Filipinos travelling to Hong Kong. Another possibility is a freeze on domestic helpers, similar to a move by Taiwan this year following the fatal shooting of a Taiwan fisherman by the Philippine coastguard. The Taiwan sanctions were dropped in August, however, after Manila offered a formal apology. Leung, who took office last July and has since seen his ratings plummet over contentious policies and scandals engulfing his team, was criticized last month for not taking a stronger stance with Manila. Philippine President Benigno Aquino has so far ruled out apologizing for the tragedy. Manila City Councillor Bernardito Ang, a representative of Manila mayor Joseph Estrada, was also recently in Hong Kong seeking to defuse the row. The tragedy occurred when a coachload of Hong Kong tourists in Manila were taken hostage by a policeman who had just been fired. Following a prolonged standoff and negotiations, watched on live television by thousands in Hong Kong, the gunman opened fire. (Additional Reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)