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China insists on right to choose candidates for HK leadership

HONG KONG -- China Sunday announced rules giving it control over who can stand in Hong Kong's next leadership election, triggering tears and fury in the city where democracy activists vowed to stage a mass sit-in.

The standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's rubber-stamp parliament, decided that the city's next chief executive will be elected by popular vote in 2017, but candidates must each be backed by more than half the members of a 1,200-strong “broadly representative nominating committee.”

Democracy advocates in the semi-autonomous Chinese city say this means Beijing will be able to ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude opponents.

“This is one person, one vote, but there is no choice. They have that in North Korea but you can't call it democracy,” Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau told AFP.

The pro-democracy group Occupy Central said it would go ahead with its threat to take over the city's Central financial district in protest, at an unspecified date.

Hundreds rallied in a park outside the city's legislature late Sunday chanting “No to fake democracy!” and blowing vuvuzelas.

“I am very sad,” Henry Chung, a 37-year-old scriptwriter, said. “We have waited so many years. But now we have nothing.”

Public discontent in Hong Kong is at its highest for years over perceived interference by Beijing, with the election method for the chief executive a touchstone issue.

“The principle that the chief executive has to be a person who loves the country and loves Hong Kong must be upheld,” said the text of the NPC decision, released by the official news agency Xinhua.

A vote by universal suffrage must have “institutional safeguards” to take into account “the actual need to maintain long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” it said.

The nominating committee will pick two to three candidates, it added.

NPC official Li Fei dismissed the democracy activists' demands, adding that Hong Kong's leader must be loyal to China's ruling Communist Party.

“The Hong Kong leader must be a person who loves the country and the Party,” he said.

Leung Chun-ying, the city's current chief executive who was picked by a pro-Beijing committee, hailed the NPC's decision as a “major step forward in the development of Hong Kong's society.”

“If we are willing, the majority of Hong Kong people, and that is some five million people eligible to vote, will no longer be bystanders in the next election,” he told reporters.

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Protesters attend a protest rally in Hong Kong on Sunday, Aug. 31. China's legislature's standing committee announced Sunday that all candidates must receive more than half of votes from a special nominating body to go before voters. (AP)

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