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U.S. House to attempt quick passage of Hong Kong human rights bill

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By Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday will attempt to quickly pass legislation unanimously approved by the Senate that aims to protect human rights in Hong Kong amid a pro-democracy movement there, a senior House aide said.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told Reuters the bill passed on Tuesday by the Senate would be brought to the House floor for passage.

If the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passes the House and is signed into law by President Donald Trump, it would ask Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for special U.S. trading consideration that bolsters its status as a world financial centre.

It also would provide for sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio was a main sponsor of the Senate-passed bill, which was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Risch and Democratic senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin.

The House is also due to take up a second bill that also passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, to ban the export of certain crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police forces. That measure, backed by Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, bans the export of items such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on whether the president intended to sign or veto the legislation.

A U.S. official said recently that no decision had been made, but the unanimous vote in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a majority of seats, could make a veto difficult for the president.

The House votes are set for late afternoon. The measures are expected to pass with overwhelming support. The House passed similar bills last month by unanimous voice votes.

A two-thirds majority would be required in both the Senate and House to override a veto.

In Beijing on Wednesday, China condemned the legislation’s passage, and vowed strong counter-measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Richard Chang)