China parliament chief Zhang Dejiang says Hong Kong decision correct

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's parliament chief said on Sunday a ruling last year on screening candidates who want to run for election as Hong Kong's top official in 2017 was the correct one, signalling no backing down on a decision that sparked protests in the city.

China has ruled the former British colony since 1997 through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.

But the National People's Congress (NPC), China's largely rubber-stamp legislature, said in August it would screen candidates who want to run in the city's election for a chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.

That ruling lead to weeks of at times violent protests in Hong Kong last year. Beijing has said repeatedly there is no room for negotiation.

Zhang Dejiang, who heads parliament and is also the ruling Communist Party's third-ranked leader, told legislators that the decision was the right one.

"Having universal suffrage to elect the chief executive is a major issue for the political development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," Zhang told the assembly.

The NPC has the right under the constitution and the law to make the "necessary" decisions about how to promote this development, he added. "This has important meaning for fully effecting 'one country, two systems', 'Hong Kong people ruling themselves', the policy of a high degree of autonomy ... and promoting the gradual development of democracy and the smooth carrying out of the 2017 chief executive election by universal suffrage," Zhang said, without elaborating.

Last week, Zhang told Hong Kong delegates to parliament that advocates of Hong Kong independence were "crossing a line".

Anger in Hong Kong has widened to include long-standing frustrations with mainland tourists crowding into shopping centres, sparking protests in malls across Hong Kong on most weekends.

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