HONG KONG • The president of the Hong Kong legislature has delayed the swearing-in of two pro-independence lawmakers and temporarily banned them from attending meetings, an unprecedented move that follows weeks of pressure from factions loyal to Beijing.
Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, and Mr Baggio Leung, 30, had displayed a "Hong Kong is not China" banner and mispronounced China as a derogatory term during their failed attempt to take an oath earlier this month.
The action sparked "great indignation and strong condemnation" from Beijing's representative office in Hong Kong. Since then, pro-Beijing forces have expanded their calls to strip the pair of their membership.
Pro-China lawmakers staged a walkout from the legislature in the new term's first meeting last Wednesday, denying it a quorum and the chance for the duo to retake their oath.
They then wrote an open letter to the legislature president, saying they would "use all their strength and try all means" to stop the pair's swearing-in.
The Hong Kong government last week failed to get a court injunction to halt their swearing-in. The High Court is due to hold a judicial review of the case on Nov 3.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, a day before the pair were due to retake the oath of office, Legislative Council president Andrew Leung said he had made the "difficult" and "painful" decision to prevent the legislature from being "ground to a halt".
"I do not kneel down because of pressure. But this is an unprecedented situation," Mr Leung said.
The pair would not be allowed to be sworn in and join meetings until the judicial review has been completed, he added.
The promotion of independence has long been taboo in the former British colony, governed under the "one country, two systems" principle since its return to Communist Party-ruled China in 1997.
But the topic has been gaining momentum since pro-democracy protests in late 2014 failed to gain any concession from Beijing.
Activists advocating various forms of greater autonomy for Hong Kong - from self-determination to outright independence - gained one in five votes in the city-wide Legislative Council election in September.