HONG KONG - Hong Kong police on Monday used pepper spray to disperse pro-democracy activists who stormed a security check-point at a venue where a senior Chinese official was explaining Beijing's decision not to grant the former British colony full democracy.
Scuffles had broken out at the entrance to the centre where Li Fei, deputy secretary general of China's National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, was speaking.
Pro-democracy activists inside the building heckled Li, shouting slogans and interrupting his speech explaining Beijing's decision, announced on Sunday, to rule out a fully democratic election for the city's next leader in 2017.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland - a policy called "one country, two systems".
The activists want universal suffrage, but Communist Party rulers in Beijing say any candidate for the territory's chief executive has to be approved by a nominating panel - likely to be stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.
Activists from a movement called Occupy Central have threatened to blockade Hong Kong's financial district unless Beijing grants full democracy, setting the stage for disruptive protests in coming weeks. "Occupy Central is an illegal activity. If we give in, it will trigger more illegal activities," Li said.
Dressed in black and wearing yellow ribbons, members of the democratic camp were escorted out of the auditorium after they shouted and held up signs reading "shameful" and saying Beijing had lost credibility.
Pro-establishment people in the crowd clapped as the democrats were led out.
Alex Chow, the head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, was escorted out jeering and heckling. Student activists said they would begin boycotting classes in mid-September and that students at 11 schools had confirmed their participation.
About 100 activists had gathered for Li's speech, some waving British colonial flags and banners with an "X" over the Chinese characters for "communism" amid a heavy police presence.
A group of Beijing loyalists stood nearby waving China's flag.
The NPC Standing Committee on Sunday endorsed a framework to let only two or three candidates run in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership vote. All candidates must first obtain majority backing from the nominating committee.