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Hong Kong leader warns against protests

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's leader warned activists Wednesday that the public would "not be sympathetic" to more pro-democracy protests as the city prepares for the next phase of controversial political reforms.

Parts of the Asian financial centre were brought to a standstill by mass street blockades at the end of last year, sparked by restrictions from Beijing on how Hong Kong's next leader will be chosen.

China announced in August that candidates running to become chief executive in 2017 - hoped to be the first ever public vote for the city's leader - would be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

"I can say that the public, if Occupy happens again, will not be sympathetic," chief executive Leung Chun-ying said, referring to the pro-democracy protest movement known as "Occupy Central".

Mr Leung, who was speaking at an investment conference in Hong Kong, added that the Chinese government had "confidence" in Hong Kong's handling of the protests, which lasted for more than two months before rally sites were cleared in December.

Rumours swirled at the time that the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which maintains a garrison in the city, would be deployed if Beijing felt Hong Kong authorities were unable to handle the demonstrations.

"Throughout the Occupy movement... the Hong Kong garrison of the Chinese People's Liberation Army was never called out from their barracks," Mr Leung said.

"It was a reassuring sign on the part of the central government of the faith and confidence in the Hong Kong government and its police force." Leung also said pro-democracy lawmakers who supported the Occupy Movement could be "punished" by voters in the election for the city's legislature in 2016.

Authorities in the southern Chinese city are pushing for a public vote to go ahead for the city's next leader but say it must adhere to Beijing's framework.

A Beijing-approved proposal for how the 2017 election will be carried out is due to be put before the city's legislature in the coming months, but pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to veto it.

Mr Leung on Tuesday said he would not rule out the possibility of running for a second term in 2017, despite facing his lowest support rating of 39.6 percent according to a poll conducted earlier this month by the Hong Kong University.

Campaigners said they would hold activities to mark the half-year anniversary of the Occupy movement over the weekend.

Britain handed the city over to China in 1997 under a joint declaration signed in 1984 which guaranteed political, social and economic freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland, but there are fears that they are being eroded by increased Beijing influence.

AFP