HONG KONG (AFP) - A small group of protesters gathered outside Hong Kong's British consulate on Friday to accuse the former colonial power of failing to stop China from wielding undue influence over elections and threatening freedoms guaranteed in a joint treaty.
About 30 people assembled outside the building in the city's Admiralty district, some waving the yellow umbrellas that are the symbol of pro-democracy occupations that have blocked roads in key districts for nearly two months.
"The UK is obligated to solve the problem... Britain bears half of the responsibility as it signed the joint declaration," 21-year-old student organiser Daniel Ma told reporters.
Britain and China are signatories of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, an agreement that enshrines rights and freedoms unavailable on the mainland and asserts "the current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged" for the 50 years following the 1997 handover.
Pro-democracy groups say China has breached the agreement and its legal embodiment, a mini-constitution known as the "Basic Law", by declaring in August that candidates for the semi-autonomous territory's top political post must be "patriots" and pre-screened by a committee loyal to Beijing.
"Democracy should be based on Hongkongers' will," Ma said. "It was a promise that for 50 years we have would have a high level of autonomy." "The UK cannot stay silent. If you are silent you are part of the same evil," he added.
After handing over a petition to consulate officials, Ma said the group would camp outside until Britain officially condemns China for breaching the declaration.
The group also wants to meet a delegation of British MPs when they visit Hong Kong in the coming weeks.
Housed in an unremarkable building, the British consulate stands in great contrast to the former colonial governor's mansion, which is now inhabited by embattled city leader Leung Chun Ying. A British royal coat of arms and images of Union flags offer the only clue to its purpose.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is "deeply concerned" about tensions in the city after police used tear gas on protesters at the end of September.
But he has yet to go as far as US President Barack Obama, who said the United States would "encourage people's right to express themselves." A spokeswoman for the British Consulate told AFP the British government "strongly denied" accusations it had ignored breaches of the treaty.
"We consider that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Joint Declaration and Basic Law continue to be upheld, and that it is these rights and freedoms that underpin Hong Kong's success. Our commitment to ensuring the faithful implementation of the Joint Declaration is as strong as ever," she said in a statement.
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights not seen on the mainland, including freedom of expression and assembly.