Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa (search) plans to announce that he's resigning Thursday afternoon, an official said, a move that would end Tung's seven years of rocky rule.
Tung planned to announce his resignation before flying to Beijing to take over a new post on an elite advisory group to the Chinese legislature, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday.
Tung avoided reporters waiting outside government headquarters as he went to work on Wednesday. He has so far refused to directly address the rumors he's quitting two years early. His silence has helped fuel the media frenzy over his future that began last week.
Earlier Wednesday, high-ranking Chinese officials in Beijing heaped praise on him in an apparent send-off.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (search) said, "I think his contributions have been great. Hong Kong people have seen them for themselves."
Zhang Chunxian, China's minister of communications, also gave Tung a big pat on the back.
"He's humble. He works very diligently. He has goodwill toward people when he's thinking about problems. He's done everything he can for Hong Kong's development," Zhang told reporters.
Tung, 67, was a shipping magnate with little political experience when he took the job as Hong Kong's chief executive. In recent years, his public approval ratings have been dismal, largely because many think he's indecisive and too cozy with big business.
Hong Kong has never enjoyed full democracy. The British opposed it, and the Chinese have continued to block reforms that would give voters the power to directly elect the chief executive and the entire legislature.
Tung was elected by an 800-member committee dominated by people partial to Beijing (search). If he resigns, the No. 2 ranking official, Donald Tsang, would take over until a new election could be held within six months.
Also Wednesday, pro-democracy lawmakers called for an urgent debate on whether the legislature should demand an explanation of Tung's future. The call was rejected.
Opposition lawmaker and unionist Lee Cheuk-yan lashed out at the government's silence over the rumors.
"The government is once again turning Hong Kong into an international joke," Lee said. "The rumor has dragged on for more than a week and the administration neither confirmed nor rejected it. The public is losing their confidence in the government."
Tung's resignation rumors began last week when local media reported that he would be named a vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (search) — an elite advisory panel to the Chinese legislature. On Tuesday evening, the body nominated Tung to be a vice chairman — a position usually given to retired leaders. The group was expected to approve the appointment on Saturday.