HONG KONG (AFP) - A senior Chinese official was angrily heckled by Hong Kong protesters on Monday as he tried to defend Beijing's landmark decision to control which candidates can stand in the city's next leadership election.
Li Fei, a member of the top committee of China's rubber stamp parliament, was forced to speak over the cries of pro-democracy lawmakers and protesters during a meeting with local officials in the southern Chinese city.
His visit comes a day after the standing committee of the National People's Congress announced that although Hong Kong's next chief executive will be elected by popular vote in 2017, candidates must be backed by more than half the members of a "broadly representative nominating committee".
Democracy activists have called the restrictive framework a betrayal of Beijing's promise to award Hong Kong universal suffrage and have vowed an "era of civil disobedience" including mass sit-ins. They say the nominating committee would ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude opponents of Beijing.
As Li approached the lectern to speak at the Asia World Expo convention centre, veteran dissident lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung started shouting him down, his fist raised in the air.
He was then joined by a dozen pro-democracy lawmakers and some younger demonstrators who unfurled a banner in front of the lectern where Li was speaking from and chanted: "The central government broke its promise, shameless."
The meeting was briefly suspended while security officers removed the hecklers.
Li flew into Hong Kong from Beijing late Sunday and was forced to drive past a crowd of largely student protesters who had gathered outside his hotel in the kind of scenes that would be unthinkable on the Chinese mainland.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.
Following Beijing's decision to vet candidates, the pro-democracy group Occupy Central said on Sunday it would go ahead with its threat to take over the city's Central financial district in protest, at an unspecified date.