* Hang Seng down 0.8%, H-shares fall 0.7%
* Economy “worsening quite fast” - finance minister
* HK criticises Taiwan as murderer walks free
* Beijing says report of new HK leader is just a rumour
HONG KONG, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Hong Kong stocks on Wednesday hit their lowest close in a week as economic headwinds and political unrest in the Asian financial centre weighed, despite government’s efforts to re-energise growth.
** At the close of trade, the Hang Seng index was down 0.8% at 26,566.73 points, its lowest closing level since October 16. The Hang Seng China Enterprises index ended down 0.7%. ** The sub-index of the Hang Seng tracking energy shares closed 0.4% lower, the IT sector ended down 1.7%, the financial sector ended 0.3% lower and the property sector lost 0.9%. ** Massive and violent anti-government protests over the past five months have shaken Hong Kong’s reputation and damaged its all important tourism and retail sectors, with many businesses forced to close. ** The Hong Kong government announced on Tuesday that it would provide HK$2 billion to support the local economy, with a particular focus on its transport, tourism and retail sectors. ** “Since the economic situation is worsening quite fast, we rolled out this package to target certain sectors which are hard hit,” Paul Chan, financial secretary, told reporters on Tuesday. ** Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday formally withdrew planned legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, meeting one of five demands of pro-democracy protesters but unlikely to end months of often violent unrest. ** A murder suspect whose case was used by the Hong Kong government to push for a controversial extradition bill walked free from jail on Wednesday as the city’s authorities squabbled with Taiwan over how to handle a promised voluntary surrender. ** China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday the Financial Times report on plans for replacing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was a political rumour with ulterior motives. The newspaper earlier reported China is drawing up a plan to replace Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam with an “interim” chief executive. ** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 0.4%, while Japan’s Nikkei index closed up 0.3%. ** About 1.27 billion Hang Seng index shares were traded. The volume traded in the previous trading session was 1.50 billion.
Reporting by Noah Sin, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips