HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader has told residents in his Lunar New Year address to be "inspired" by this year's zodiac animal - the sheep - after anti-government protests paralysed parts of the city.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying encouraged residents to "take inspiration" from the sheep, describing the zodiac ungulates as "mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups".
Mr Leung said the past year "was no easy ride" with the city "rife with difference and conflicts" - a thinly veiled reference to the pro-democracy rallies that brought some streets in the financial hub to a standstill for over two months.
"In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner," he added.
Mr Leung has frequently drawn ridicule - and anger - from Hong Kong's vocal pro-democracy supporters for his pro-Beijing stance.
"Of course you'd like everyone to turn into sheep," one netizen commented on a local news site, using Mr Leung's local nickname of a "wolf".
During the protests that brought thousands onto the streets to call for fully free leadership elections, Mr Leung was frequently portrayed as the sheep's mortal enemy - a wolf.
China has promised people in the semi-autonomous city the right to vote for their next chief executive in 2017. But it ruled that nominees must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, a proposal that activists have slammed as false democracy.
The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and Chinese folklore ascribes 12 animals to each year in the rotating cycle.