Hong Kong leader hits back at critics who booed and heckled election plan

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying on Thursday hit back at "uncivilised" critics after he was booed and heckled by local residents as he tried to promote a newly unveiled, Beijing-backed plan for leadership elections in 2017.

The roadmap for the city's first ever public vote for its chief executive was announced on Wednesday. It conforms to a controversial ruling from Beijing stipulating that candidates must be pre-screened by a loyalist committee.

The ruling sparked mass protests which lasted more than two months towards the end of last year.

The government launched a promotional campaign to sell the plan after its launch but Leung and his deputy Carrie Lam were drowned out by protesters as they visited a middle-class district late Wednesday.

"Yesterday during the district visit... there were some hecklers who kept using loud voices and quite uncivilised words to try to speak over others," Leung told reporters on Thursday.

"It's not democratic behaviour," he said. "We don't want to see such scenes at every district visit."

Protesters booed Leung and Lam and blocked their path with yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the democracy movement.

The election proposal triggered a backlash from pro-democracy lawmakers and student leaders, and was slammed by Human Rights Watch, which described it as a "betrayal".

Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 under a joint declaration which guaranteed political, social and economic freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.

The semi-autonomous city is governed under that "one country, two systems" deal, but there are fears that freedoms are being eroded by increased influence from Beijing.

Currently the city's leader is chosen by a 1,200-strong election committee.

Beijing has promised universal suffrage for the 2017 vote, but has said that candidates must be approved first by a nominating committee.

The constitutional reform package is "legal, feasible, rational and practical", China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said on Wednesday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

"The central government consistently supports efforts to advance the democratic development" in Hong Kong, it added.

But pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to block the roadmap when it goes to a vote in Hong Kong's legislature in the coming months.

Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, described the election plan as an "utter capitulation to Beijing" and a "betrayal of democratic aspirations in Hong Kong".

"The right to vote and the right to stand for election are fundamental human rights," she said.

"That the Hong Kong authorities are denying half that equation is a rejection of international law and of the promise of democracy for the citizens there."

Human Rights Watch said the screening of candidates would violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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