HONG KONG - Hong Kong's first chief executive after its return to Chinese rule in 1997 warned city lawmakers on Monday not to try to vote down Beijing's plan to screen candidates for the city's next leader, broadcaster RTHK reported.
Tung Chee-hwa said Hong Kong would be taking steps backward if lawmakers voted against Beijing's political reform package for the territory, RTHK said, quoting Tung speaking at the inauguration of a think tank.
Pro-democracy protesters who have locked down key political and financial districts in Hong Kong for more than six weeks are demanding open nominations for the city's next chief executive election in 2017. Beijing has said it will allow a vote, but only between pre-screened candidates - a framework the activists say is untenable.
Hundreds of protesters marched on the Chinese central government's "liaison office" in Hong Kong on Sunday, demanding that the Aug. 31 decision by the National People's Congress (NPC) be overturned, media reported.
China has ruled Hong Kong through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
Frustrated with Hong Kong government officials' perceived inability to negotiate, student protest leaders requested Tung to act as an intermediary with Beijing officials. He declined.
Tung, a Shanghai-born former shipping tycoon, is the vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The CPPCC is a high-profile but largely ceremonial advisory body to the NPC, China's parliament.
Tung was hand-picked by Beijing to rule Hong Kong following the handover, ending more than 150 years of British rule.
One of the main groups behind the protests, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said it could send a delegation to Beijing as soon as the end of the week if other NPC delegates they are contacting also decline to help arrange a meeting with mainland officials, RTHK reported.
But it was unclear if Beijing would allow them entry. The student activist group Scholarism said one of its volunteer members was barred from entering the mainland last week.