Hong Kong leader warns against protests ahead of reform talks

A supporter of the pro-democracy movement among the last few tents allowed to remain outside the government building in Hong Kong on Jan 6, 2015. Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday warned against fresh democracy protests ahead of the next step in the
A supporter of the pro-democracy movement among the last few tents allowed to remain outside the government building in Hong Kong on Jan 6, 2015. Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday warned against fresh democracy protests ahead of the next step in the city's contentious political reform process, saying the authorities would not bow to "coercive action". -- PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday warned against fresh democracy protests ahead of the next step in the city's contentious political reform process, saying the authorities would not bow to "coercive action".

The government will on Wednesday launch a second round of public consultation on the process for electing the city's next chief executive.

China has pledged that Hong Kong will be able to choose its own leader for the first time in 2017.

But it has ruled that candidates will be screened by a loyalist committee - a decision that sparked more than two months of pro-democracy rallies.

The new consultation will be the first official reform exercise since the authorities cleared the main pro-democracy protest camps in December.

But campaigners are pessimistic that any meaningful proposals will be on the table.

Current leader Leung Chun Ying reiterated the government's hard line on Tuesday and said any voting system would stick to the framework laid down by China.

"If we really want to implement universal suffrage on 2017, we... should not do anything that threatens the Hong Kong government or the Central Government," Leung told reporters.

He said that the process must stick to the city's constitution and that "coercive actions that are illegal or disrupt social order" would not change anything.

The public should take a "legal, rational and pragmatic" approach in expressing opinions, Leung added.

But pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka Ki said the consultation would be "a large scale propaganda excercise".

"Those coming from the democratic camp will be able to enter (as candidates), but they will never be able to be selected for election," he told AFP.

"The government will try to create an impression that we have a lot of room to discuss how candidates of different persuasions can enter the race, but the nominating committee will still do the gatekeeping," added political analyst Ma Ngok.

At their height, the pro-democracy rallies saw tens of thousands take to the streets demanding fully free elections.

But the authorities in both Hong Kong and Beijing consistently branded the protests "illegal".

The protests failed to change the Beijing decision in August which required all leadership candidates to be vetted.

That decision was made after the Hong Kong government sent a report to Beijing following the first round of consultation - heavily criticised by democracy campaigners for failing to reflect public sentiment.

The new round of consultation is expected to put forward specific proposals on mechanisms to select candidates.

Leung said it would be "less broad", without giving any details.

It comes as the government continues to clamp down on activists.

On Monday, the justice department put forward court applications to formally charge 20 activists for obstructing bailiffs clearing the protest camp in Mongkok in November.

Dozens of other protest leaders, including founder of the Occupy movement Benny Tai and student leader Alex Chow, have also been requested to turn themselves in to police, according to local media.

The government is due to send an official report on the democracy movement to Beijing as soon as Tuesday, which it has said would reflect public sentiment in a move to appease student protest leaders.