Hong Kong activist's newspaper column scrapped amid democracy row

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - A well-respected Hong Kong newspaper has axed a weekly column by a political activist and hedge fund manager as the Asian financial centre braces for a wave of protests against China's decision to rule out full democracy.

Columnist Edward Chin Chi-kin said he was told by the Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal on Friday that his half-page weekly column that he had written since 2006 would be cancelled due to a new page design.

Chin, a member of a movement called Occupy Central that has threatened to blockade Hong Kong's financial district amid the democracy row, branded the move "a political decision".

"Over the past one-and-a-half years since (Leung Chun-ying), we have seen mainland influence get worse and worse," Chin told Reuters, referring to Chief Executive Leung taking over as Hong Kong leader in mid-July 2012.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal was bought in 2006 by Richard Li, chairman of telecom group PCCW and the younger son of billionaire businessman Li Ka-shing. Richard Li was not immediately available to comment.

In a statement late on Monday, the Independent Commentators'Association, of which Chin is a member, expressed "deep concern"over the move. "It is not hard for someone to associate the coincidence with political censorship," it added.

In July, the Hong Kong Journalists' Association said press freedom in the former British colony had entered its darkest period in decades. Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a policy of "one country, two systems".

The pro-democracy activists want universal suffrage, but Communist Party rulers in Beijing say any candidate for the territory's chief executive has to be first approved by a nominating panel - likely to be stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists and making it almost impossible for an opposition democrat to get on the ballot. Police on Monday used pepper spray to disperse protesters angry at China's decision.

They said on Tuesday that they arrested 19 people during scuffles. No one was injured.