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China legislature meets over HK election reforms

BEIJING -- The top committee of China's rubber-stamp legislature opened a session Monday that will discuss issues including the election method for Hong Kong's chief executive, according to state media reports.

The meeting of the standing committee of the National People's Congress comes with public discontent in the former British colony at its highest for years over perceived interference by Beijing and growing divisions over how its next leader should be chosen in 2017.

Pro-democracy campaigners from the Occupy Central group have pledged to mobilize thousands of protesters to block the financial district later this year if authorities reject the public's right to nominate candidates for the post.

But the movement has been strongly criticized by Beijing and city officials as illegal, radical and potentially violent.

At the standing committee session — due to run until Sunday — lawmakers will review a report from Hong Kong's current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on whether to revise the election method, Xinhua said previously, among other Chinese issues.

One of the organizers of Occupy Central said he was “anxiously awaiting” the outcome of the session.

“The bottom line is universal suffrage that satisfies international standards must be granted, allowing people of different political backgrounds to contest the election,” Chan Kin-man told AFP.

“If there is no room for genuine elections we will be forced to launch our occupation.”

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain on July 1, 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement, which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.

But Beijing is insisting that candidates be vetted before the 2017 vote.

Tens of thousands of people, organized by the pro-government Alliance for Peace and Democracy, earlier this month marched through Hong Kong to protest against the Occupy Central campaign.

The rally came around seven weeks after rival pro-democracy protesters staged a mass march demanding a greater say over how Hong Kong's next leader is chosen.

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