China's top daily appeals to Hong Kong lawmakers on vote plan

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's top newspaper has issued an appeal to all of Hong Kong's lawmakers to support a Beijing-proposed election blueprint in a mid-June vote saying it was the only way to achieve democracy, after the territory's democrats said they would veto it.

Hong Kong, which Britain returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was roiled by 79 days of mass demonstrations and street occupations late last year over how its next leader would be chosen in 2017.

Democrats want a leader chosen by universal suffrage, rather than from a list of pro-Beijing candidates as China is insisting.

The electoral blueprint requires a two-thirds majority in the 70-seat legislature to pass, but Beijing failed last month to persuade enough of the city's 27 pro-democracy lawmakers to back the package.

The mid-June vote could trigger more mass demonstrations, and police have been carrying out drills to prepare for possible protests on the day.

The ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, in an editorial to be published on Friday, said that Beijing "wholeheartedly"hoped that all sides in Hong Kong could grasp what it termed a historic opportunity.

"Legislature members have a crucial role to play and important responsibility for putting into effect universal suffrage for the chief executive," said the editorial, which was carried by the official Xinhua news agency on Thursday.

"The central government earnestly hopes and calls on all members of the legislature to put Hong Kong's basic, long-term interests and the interests of the whole nation first, go with the wishes of the majority of the people and ... correctly exercise the power in their hands," the newspaper added.

The people of Hong Kong's "long-cherished wish" is for the 2017 elections, something that is also an "objective requirement" for its economic and social development, it said. "When things go well for Hong Kong, they go well for the country; when things go well for the country, they go even better for Hong Kong," the newspaper said.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong last year marked one of the boldest populist challenges to Beijing's Communist Party rule since the former British colony returned to Chinese control.

Hong Kong returned to China's rule under a principle of "one country, two systems" allowing it broad autonomy and far more freedom of speech, assembly and religion than exists on the mainland. But China has made it plain that Beijing's sovereignty cannot be questioned.