Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong in court bid over vote rules

HONG KONG - Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong launched a court bid Monday demanding the age limit for candidates to stand for election in the city be lowered from 21 to 18.

Democracy activist Wong launched the bid on the eve of his 19th birthday and said if it was passed he would consider running for the city's de facto parliament.

The teenager became the face of the Umbrella Movement protests for fully free leadership elections, which brought parts of the city to a standstill at the end of last year.

Despite the rallies, authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong refused to budge on political reform.

Since then Wong has said activists must turn to longer term strategies to bring change.

"I wish to tackle the current system through judicial review, and to call for more young people to participate in politics more comprehensively," he said in a statement Monday after filing an application for judicial review at the city's High Court.

Hong Kong residents can vote from the age of 18, but can only stand for office from the age of 21, something that Wong says is unconstitutional.

The current rules "were preventing us from our rights as promised according to human rights laws and the Basic Law (the city's constitution)", he said.

Wong added that it was necessary for the younger generation to be eligible to stand in order to challenge the "conservative political culture" of the pan-democrats currently in the legislature and to push for self-determination for Hong Kong.

The semi-autonomous city was returned to China by Britain in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal which allows it much greater freedoms than seen on the mainland.

But there are fears that Beijing's influence is increasing and freedoms are being eroded.

Last year's mass protests were sparked after Beijing said candidates for the city's next leader must be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of a public vote.

There have also been recent smaller protests over political interference in Hong Kong's education system after a liberal law scholar, who had supported the democracy movement, was rejected from a university post.

Some activists have been charged over their involvement in the democracy protests.

Wong faces a number of charges and is due to appear in court twice this month in separate protest-related cases.