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Published: Thursday September 4, 2014 MYT 6:31:10 PM
Updated: Thursday September 4, 2014 MYT 6:32:25 PM

Hong Kong leader questions British contribution to city's democracy

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong hit back on Thursday at the former British colony's last governor who called on China to stand by its promises to the city, saying residents never had a say in who governed them while Britain ruled.

The comments came a day after Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong who was in tears during the 1997 handover ceremony, said Britain had a moral and political obligation to ensure China respects its commitments to the financial hub.

The former British territory is bracing for a wave of protests after Beijing on Sunday ruled out fully democratic elections in 2017, setting the stage for a political showdown with democrats.

"First, before Hong Kong's return to the motherland, all governors of Hong Kong were not elected by Hong Kong people," a spokesman for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said in a statement.

"Second, the Sino-British Joint Declaration does not provide for universal suffrage at all," he added, referring to the agreement signed in 1984 that set out arrangements for the transfer of sovereignty under a "one country, two systems" formula.

Britain made no mention of democracy for Hong Kong until the dying days of about 150 years of colonial rule.

With tension rising in the Asian financial centre, Britain's parliament launched an inquiry into Hong Kong's progress towards democracy in July, prompting the Chinese ambassador to Britain to demand that it be shelved.

Britain's parliament on Tuesday rejected calls to scrap it and warned that reforms in Hong Kong may violate the 1984 deal on the former British colony's sovereignty.

Pro-democracy activists held a rally in Hong Kong on Sunday after China said it would allow a vote for Hong Kong's next chief executive, but only for a handful of pre-screened candidates.

A movement called Occupy Central has threatened to blockade the heart of the city's financial district to protest against Beijing's decision, while Hong Kong students have said they plan to strike later this month.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have branded the Occupy movement illegal, saying it could damage the city's business and economic development.

Hong Kong people are split on the issue of street protests, with many concerned about antagonising China and disruptions to business.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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