China vice president says 2017 vote wish of most Hong Kong people

BEIJING (REUTERS) - The planned 2017 election for Hong Kong's top official is what most people in the Chinese territory want, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao said on Monday, despite the fact that thousands took to the streets of city for months last year in protest.

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 last August it would screen candidates who want to run in the city's 2017 election for a chief executive. Democracy activists said this rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.

The NPC's ruling led to weeks of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong last year. Beijing has said repeatedly that there is no room for negotiation.

Meeting a delegation from Hong Kong in Beijing, state news agency Xinhua cited Li as offering once more the central government's support for the poll. "Having an election in 2017 for the chief executive using universal suffrage is the genuine hope of the central government, and also the common wish of the majority of Hong Kong's people," Li said.

All sides of Hong Kong society should grasp this "historic opportunity" and take a positive, rational and pragmatic attitude to promote the territory's path towards democracy as well as its prosperity and stability, he added.

The report did not elaborate.

China's parliament chief said last month that the ruling on screening candidates who want to be chosen as Hong Kong's top official in 2017 was the correct one, a further signal Beijing had no intention of backing down.

However, last week China said it would limit the number of visits that residents of the southern city of Shenzhen can make to neighbouring Hong Kong to ease the flow of mainland visitors that has stirred up tensions.