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Politics

Hong Kong government unyielding on election reforms

HONG KONG -- The first dialogue between the Hong Kong government and student leaders held here on Tuesday was largely a futile endeavor, with officials shooting down key demands by the pro-democracy camp.

     Five representatives from each side attended the Tuesday talks. The government delegation was headed by the city's No. 2 official, Carrie Lam, while the students were led by Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

     The discussion was mediated by Leonard Cheng, president of Lingnan University, and televised live.

     Lam called on the pro-democracy camp to end the protests at the beginning of the meeting, saying that the long-term occupation of streets will not solve the election reform issue.

     Chow responded that Hong Kong people will only return to their homes when the government gives a clear time frame for the democratization of the city.

     The discussion mainly focused on the August decision by the National People's Congress of China, which requires all candidates running in the 2017 chief executive election to first be approved by a nominating committee.

     The majority of the 1,200-person committee will likely be pro-Beijing, which makes it virtually impossible for candidates to run for the city's top post without the central government's blessing.

     The students pointed out that influential businessmen and large conglomerates will dominate the nominating committee, and that the voices of up to 1 million city residents living in poverty will not be heard.

     They requested the government to change the current system, where each industry appoints members to the committee, to one that better reflects public opinion. They also demanded that any candidates who collect signatures from over 1% of registered voters be allowed to run in the election.

     But the government representatives repeatedly emphasized that Beijing's decision was legally valid and would not be revised. They also rejected the demand for so-called "civic nomination," saying it would go against the Basic Law, Hong Kong's miniconstitution.

     Lam did, however, say that the election reforms were not permanent, hinting at the possibility of adjustments in the 2022 elections and beyond. She also seemed open to creating a panel to debate future election reforms.

     The students also demanded that the Hong Kong government resubmit a report that Beijing used to decide on the reforms, saying it did not reflect the pro-democracy camp's position and misled the central Chinese government.

     Although Lam maintained that the report was unbiased, she said she will consider submitting an additional report on the ongoing protests and other recent developments here.

     Lam said she hopes to continue the dialogue with student groups. But Chow told the press after the meeting that he will first consult with other pro-democracy groups on how to proceed, and that he does not know whether more talks could lead to the end of the protests.

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