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China insists on right to choose candidates for Hong Kong leader


Police officers carry barriers outside Hong Kong government offices as they prepare for a protest by democracy activists in Hong Kong on August 31, 2014. Photo - AFP

China's top legislative committee insisted Sunday on the authorities' right to choose candidates for the leadership of Hong Kong, state media said, a move likely to trigger protests in the former British colony.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee decided that the city's next chief executive will be elected by popular vote in 2017, "upon nomination by a 'broadly representative' committee", the official news agency Xinhua reported.

Democracy advocates say the move means Beijing will be able to ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude opponents.

A pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, has pledged to mobilise thousands of protesters to block the financial district if authorities refuse to allow the public to choose candidates for the poll.

"We are prepared to organise our protest actions, wave after wave," protest leader Benny Tai told reporters on Friday ahead of the decision. "In the end we will have our final act of occupying the main streets of Hong Kong in Central."

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 under an agreement that guarantees civil liberties including the right to protest.

Since then, the city's leader has been chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

The issue has seen political tensions in Hong Kong soar.

An unofficial referendum organised by Occupy activists saw the majority of 800,000 people who voted supporting reform packages that would allow public nominations.

In a counter move, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy mounted a petition against the Occupy campaign, supported by pro-Beijing groups and officials, and said it collected some 1.4 million signatures.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency warned early Friday in a strongly worded article that the central government has "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong and "will always be involved" in its affairs.

"China will not squeeze Hong Kong's autonomy, but anti-central government groups should cast off the illusion that Hong Kong is under full autonomy," it added.

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