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China rules out open nominations for Hong Kong leader

China has said it will not allow open nominations for candidates for the leadership of Hong Kong in landmark 2017 elections. The announcement could trigger further large-scale protests in the city.

China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, ruled on Sunday that Hong Kong's next chief executive would be chosen only from candidates that had been nominated by a "broadly representative committee," the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The move is likely to trigger further protests in the city by pro-democracy groups, who have threatened to block Hong Kong's financial district if authorities do not allow candidates for the 2017 poll to be chosen freely.

Democracy advocates say the nominating committee is likely to be stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists who will exclude those candidates opposed to Chinese influence on the former British colony.

Although Hong Kong has enjoyed substantial political autonomy since being handed back to China by Britain in 1997, its leader since then has been chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

China had said back then that the elections in 2017 would be the first since the handover to be decided by "universal suffrage," but Sunday's move would seem to run counter to this promise.

In an article on Friday run by Xinhua, the news agency said that Beijing had "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, warning activists to "cast off the illusion that Hong Kong is under full autonomy."

Contentious campaign

Political tensions over the issue have soared, with both

pro-democracy groups

and

Beijing supporters

holding protests.

In June, the group Occupy Central, which is threatening the blockade of Hong Kong's business district, organized

an unofficial referendum

that saw most of the 800,000 people who voted supporting reform packages allowing public nominations for the elections.

The pro-Beijing Alliance for Peace and Democracy then mounted a petition against the Occupy campaign, which they said collected some 1.4 million signatures. The group has denounced Occupy Central as a danger to the city's stability.

Pro-democracy activists from Occupy were planning a protest in the city center for Sunday night following Beijing's decision to control the nomination of election candidates.

tj/nm (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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