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HONG KONG – Hundreds rallied in Hong Kong on Sunday ahead of a crucial vote by lawmakers on Beijing-backed election reforms that sparked huge street protests last year.
With an important decision on the southern Chinese financial hub's political future days away, pro-democracy supporters were marching to city government headquarters to rally support for a veto of the government's electoral reform package.
At issue is how Hong Kongers would choose their top leader, who's currently hand-picked by a panel of Beijing-friendly elites. Under the reforms to be put before lawmakers starting Wednesday, the government proposal would allow direct elections for the first time but also require screening of candidates by the panel.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Kei said Friday that the proposal was "in line with Hong Kong's current circumstances, taking into account the interests of and appeals from different social groups and sectors in Hong Kong."
Pro-democracy activists, who caught the world's attention last autumn by occupying parts of the city for 11 weeks to demand greater electoral freedom, have blasted the proposals as "sham democracy" and called for genuine universal suffrage.
Authorities are bracing for renewed tensions as both pro-democracy and pro-establishment groups plan to rally outside the government complex. They worry that protesters may try again to occupy roads though organizers, who hope 50,000 people will turn out for daily rallies this week, have ruled out such action.