Updated: 09/01/2014 12:36 | By Agence France-Presse

Top Chinese official heckled by Hong Kong protesters

A senior Chinese official was heckled by angry Hong Kong protesters on Monday as he defended Beijing's landmark decision to control which candidates can stand in the city's next leadership election.

Top Chinese official heckled by Hong Kong protesters

Protesters attend a pro-democracy rally next to the Hong Kong government complex on August 31, 2014 - by Alex Ogle

Li Fei, a member of the top committee of China's rubber stamp parliament, was forced to speak over the cries of pro-democracy lawmakers and protesters during a meeting with local officials in the southern Chinese city. 

His visit comes a day after democracy activists vowed an "era of civil disobedience" including mass sit-ins of the international trading hub's financial district in response to Beijing's decision to grant only limited suffrage to the former British colony. 

On Sunday the standing committee of the National People's Congress announced that the southern Chinese city's next chief executive will be elected by popular vote in 2017. 

But candidates must be backed by more than half the members of a "broadly representative nominating committee".

Democracy activists have called the restrictive framework a betrayal of Beijing's promise to award Hong Kong universal suffrage and say the nominating committee would ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude dissidents.

As Li approached the lectern to speak at the Asia World Expo convention centre, veteran dissident lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung started shouting him down, his fist raised in the air. 

He was then joined by a dozen pro-democracy lawmakers and some younger demonstrators who unfurled a banner in front of the lectern where Li was speaking from and chanted: "The central government broke its promise, shameless."

The meeting was briefly suspended while security officers removed the hecklers.

Footage broadcast on Cable TV showed police spraying protesters outside the hall where Li was speaking with what appeared to be pepper spray. A lone demonstrator dressed in a yellow t-shirt was seen sitting on the ground covering his eyes. 

- Dogged by protests -

Delivering his speech in Mandarin in the largely Cantonese speaking city, Li repeated Beijing's insistence that China will not tolerate a leader who is disloyal to the mainland.

"Anyone who does not love the country, love Hong Kong or is confrontational towards the central government shall not be the chief executive," he said.

"(Those who) wish Hong Kong will become an independent political entity or will change the country's socialist system will not have a political future."

Li flew into Hong Kong from Beijing late Sunday and was forced to drive past a crowd of largely student protesters who had gathered outside his hotel, in the kind of scenes that would be unthinkable on the Chinese mainland.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.

Protesters have vowed to dog him throughout his visit to the city, where public discontent over perceived interference by Beijing is at an all-time high.

Following Beijing's decision to vet candidates, the pro-democracy group Occupy Central said Sunday it would go ahead with its threat to take over the city's Central financial district in protest, at an unspecified date.

Shortly before Li's speech, activists launched what they described as a "slow drive" through the city, the first of a string of small-scale civil disobedience acts that have been promised by protesters.

Some 10 cars, decked with flags, made their way deliberately slowly through the city accompanied by police motorcycles, but traffic was not noticeably disrupted.

Chinese state media Monday said those embarking on a civil disobedience campaign were destined to fail.

"The radical opposition camp is doomed to be a paper tiger in front of Hong Kong's mainstream public opinion and the firm resolution of the central government, wrote the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, in an editorial. 

The government-published China Daily added: "The people of Hong Kong have a critical decision to make: to embrace a hitherto unprecedented level of democracy, or the disruptive, reckless political gamble to be staged by the radicals."

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