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Hong Kong Arrests Pro-Democracy Activists

Pro-democracy activists clash with the police during a protest outside the hotel where China's National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee Deputy General Secretary Li Fei is staying, in Hong Kong, September 1, 2014.

Hong Kong police say they have arrested 19 people during protests against Beijing's decision to censor candidates for the territory's 2017 election.

The protesters were arrested late Monday for illegal assembly and obstructing police outside the hotel where a senior Chinese official was staying. Minor clashes, though no injuries, were reported.

Local media said three others were arrested for disorderly conduct at a separate demonstration, which police dispersed using pepper spray. The activists disrupted a speech by Li Fei, deputy director of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, who was trying to explain Beijing's stance.

Pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung was among those who shouted down Li.

"The Beijing regime tries to devastate what they have promised for the Hong Kong people, One Country, Two Systems. I think universal suffrage means there should be no censorship on the candidates on any election," said Li.

Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said he thinks the heckling of Li was intended mainly to express the humiliation and resentment of Hong Kong's people.

“Their decision obliterates Hong Kong peoples' 30-year efforts and the future of young people. If Hong Kong cannot achieve democracy, there would be no place or no right to speak for Hong Kong’s young people. Even though the heckling will not bring any substantive changes, we’ve clarified our stand that we don’t need a ‘parents’ lecture,’” said Shum.

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 to become Hong Kong's next leader must receive a majority vote from a "broadly representative" nominating committee that opponents say will be stacked with pro-Beijing members.

That ruling makes it unlikely that any opposition candidates will get on the ballot for the 2017 election.

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. We absolutely can’t accept it. We have a joint statement from 25 pan-democrat members. We’ll definitely reject it and we will appeal to residents to occupy Central comprehensively,” said Lee.

Hundreds of pro-democracy supporters later rallied in a Hong Kong park outside the territory's legislature, calling Beijing's pre-screening of candidates "fake democracy."

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.

During his speech to the legislature, Li said Beijing would not give in to activists like Occupy Central.

"We all know Occupy Central is illegal. Countless historical examples and real-life experiences from China's history and abroad tell us that if we bend down to the radical and illegal movements triggered by some people, it will only lead to more illegal movements at a greater scale," said Li.

If, as expected, Hong Kong lawmakers block the pro-Beijing legislation, the territory will likely continue electing its leaders in the same way it currently does.

Since the territory was handed back to China by Britain, 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.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin and Cantonese services.