Hong Kong police dispersed pro-democracy activists in a second day of protest rallies, after they heckled a senior Chinese official trying to explain Beijing's decision to tightly control nominations for the territory's chief executive.
As Li Pei, deputy director of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, began an address to Hong Kong lawmakers Monday, he was shouted down by pro-democracy activists and legislators.
"The Beijing regime tries to devastate what they have promised for the Hong Kong people: one country, two systems," said Leung Kwok-hung, one of the legislators. "I think universal suffrage means there should be no censorship on the candidates on any election."
Li continued his speech after police forced the protesters out of the venue, saying the decision was made to protect the rule of law and safeguard Hong Kong's long-term stability.
China's powerful Standing Committee ruled Sunday that candidates seeking to become Hong Kong's next leader must receive a majority vote from a "broadly representative" nominating committee. Activists say it’s stacked with supporters of China's Community Party, essentially ruling out democracy supporters from appearing on the ballot for the 2017 election.
Beijing said criteria for choosing the nominees should include "a love of country." An editorial in the state-run People’s Daily newspaper said that "nobody who is antagonistic" to the Communist Party should be allowed to be chief executive.
All of Hong Kong's chief executives have been chosen by a small election committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists drawn mostly from business sectors.
Hong Kong Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau accused China of going back on its promises of universal suffrage.
"I think Beijing's decision is really appalling, however not unexpected," she said. "After all, we are dealing with an authoritarian regime."
The debate over election reforms has polarized Hong Kong.
Lee Chuoren, a pro-democracy legislator, told VOA's Mandarin service that Beijing's decision will not pass the Hong Kong legislature, where the opposition has enough seats to block the issue.
"This is a fake election," Lee said, saying it was unacceptable. "We have a joint statement from 25 pan-Democrat members" noting opposition to the ruling.
Regina Ip, leader of Hong Kong’s New People’s Party, supports Beijing’s proposal.
"I can understand the disappointment on the part of my pan-Dem colleagues, because it means their chance of getting nominated would be diminished," Ip said. "But their inability to participate should not be a reason for vetoing this package."
Democracy activists say the move by Beijing ushers in a new era of civil disobedience in the former British colony.
Leaders of the Occupy Central Movement said the group will go forward with plans to stage mass rallies in the central business district of the former British colony. They did not specify a date for the action.
Hundreds of pro-democracy supporters who rallied Monday in a Hong Kong park outside the territory's legislature called Beijing's pre-screening of candidates "fake democracy."
The activists have vowed to shut down the territory's central business district following China's decision.
Demonstrations in favor of direct elections have spread beyond Hong Kong to Macau, which re-elected its incumbent leader Fernando Chui in an unchallenged contest over the weekend.