Hong Kong lawmakers head towards key reform vote

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong lawmakers made impassioned speeches as they went into day two of a marathon debate on Thursday ahead of a key vote that pits democracy campaigners against the government.

Legislators from both sides of the political divide took turns to make their case ahead of the much-anticipated vote on a Beijing-backed electoral reform package which saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets last year.

All 70 lawmakers are permitted to speak for 15 minutes with the vote due by Friday.

Pro-democracy lawmakers are widely expected to unite against the bill, denying it the two thirds majority it needs to pass.

Although the Hong Kong government's plan would for the first time give all residents the right to vote for the chief executive in 2017, it adheres to a Beijing ruling that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.

The proposal is derided as "fake democracy" by opposition lawmakers and campaigners.

Authorities in semi-autonomous Hong Kong have said repeatedly that they cannot diverge from Beijing's ruling last August, which sparked weeks of mass rallies and road blockades that brought parts of the city to a standstill.

"Even if we don't win real universal suffrage, as long as we don't give up, we have not lost," said Gary Fan of the Neo-Democrats, speaking in the legislative council chamber on Thursday morning.

"The ones that have lost here are the Beijing and Hong Kong governments because they have lost the hearts of Hongkongers," said Fan.

Pro-establishment lawmakers argued that pan-democrats are depriving Hong Kong's electorate of a chance to vote and destabilising the city.

"If this (package) is vetoed today, then what next? Will there be another Occupy? Or will more bombs or weapons be made to create a bloody revolt?" warned Elizabeth Quat, a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.

Security has been upped at the legislature after an alleged plot which saw 10 people arrested on Sunday and Monday and six charged with conspiring to make explosives.

The defendants accused police of assault and using threats to force them to cooperate with the investigation when they appeared for the first time before magistrates on Wednesday, the South China Morning Post reported.

There have been daily rallies outside the legislature since Sunday ahead of the vote, which have so far remained peaceful.

Around 300 protesters gathered there on Thursday morning, the vast majority of them pro-Beijing supporters shouting: "Support Hong Kong to pass the reform".

A handful of pro-democracy supporters watched a big-screen broadcast of the debate with some voicing fears that the package could still be passed.

"I am really worried that some democratic lawmakers will change their stance," said construction worker Terry Chik, 44.

Chik added that the pro-government supporters had arrived in coaches early Thursday morning.

"They have the resources... We are self-motivated. What we have is determination," he said.

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