Hong Kong's democracy debate

This picture taken on 23 August 2014 shows a general view of commercial and residential buildings near Hong Kong's Victoria harbour. Hong Kong has its own legal system, with rights such as freedom of assembly and free speech protected

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Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have reacted angrily after Beijing ruled out open nominations for the election of Hong Kong's leader in 2017. The BBC takes a look at the controversy.

What is Hong Kong's relationship with China?

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 following a 1984 agreement between China and Britain.

China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of "one country, two systems", where the city would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.

Its leader, the chief executive, is currently elected by a 1,200-member election committee. A majority of the representatives are viewed as pro-Beijing.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says that "the ultimate aim" is to elect the chief executive "by universal suffrage".

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So what has changed?

The Chinese government has promised direct elections for chief executive by 2017.

But in August 2014 China's top legislative committee ruled that voters will only have a choice from a list of two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee.

This committee would be formed "in accordance with" Hong Kong's largely pro-Beijing election committee. Any candidate would have to secure the support of more than 50% of the nominating committee before being able to run in the election.

Democracy activists believe China will use the committee to screen out candidates it disapproves of.

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Pro-democracy supporters raise banners that read: "Occupy Central with Love and Peace," during a kickoff ceremony of an referendum on democracy under a plan of Occupy-style protest in Hong Kong, on 20 June 2014. Occupy Central is one of several pro-democracy groups pushing for electoral reform in Hong Kong
Who is leading the debate?

Leading the pro-democracy movement is a group called Occupy Central, led by academic Benny Tai.

The group organised the unofficial referendum on political reform which was held from 20 to 29 June 2014.

Voters were asked to choose from three proposals for the 2017 election, all of which involved allowing citizens to choose who to nominate as a candidate for the top job.

A total of 792,808 voters cast ballots. Activists claimed the high turnout - about one in five registered voters - showed they had strong backing from the public.

Shortly after the vote, tens of thousands of protesters took part in what observers say was Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy rally in a decade.

The demonstration took place on 1 July, which marked the day Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

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People hold the Chinese and Hong Kong flags as they take part in a pro-government rally in Hong Kong on 17 August 2014 A rally by pro-Beijing groups on 17 August drew thousands
Does everyone want full democracy?

No. Pro-Beijing groups, such as Silent Majority for Hong Kong and Caring Hong Kong Power have emerged, criticising pro-democracy activists for "endangering" the city.

They argue that continued civil disobedience and opposition to Beijing would only damage the city's reputation and economy, as well as its relationship with China.

These groups have organised several protests against Occupy Central and the pro-democracy movement. Its biggest event, held on 17 August, was attended by thousands.

The rally was unusual as large-scale pro-government protests are rare in Hong Kong. Several questioned its legitimacy, especially when reports emerged that some marchers were paid to attend.

Business leaders, who favour stability, have also opposed pro-democracy protests, and a recent survey by Hong Kong University showed more Hong Kong residents viewed China positively than negatively.

Pro-China legislators have argued that Beijing's proposals are an improvement on the current system.

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Passers-by walk behind a banner urging people to vote between 20 and 29 June in an unofficial referendum at the financial Central district in Hong Kong on 23 June 2014. Beijing has dismissed the results of the unofficial referendum held in June by pro-democracy activists
What does China say?

China has defended its ruling on election candidacy. Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said that openly nominating candidates would create a "chaotic society" and that any chief executive must "love the country".

China has condemned the pro-democracy protests and called the unofficial referendum a "farce".

In its June 2014 white paper, China said some had a "confused and lopsided" understanding of the "one country, two systems" model.

It stressed that while Hong Kong has a "high degree of autonomy", it is "not full autonomy". China still has "comprehensive jurisdiction".

The white paper sparked criticism in Hong Kong, with some interpreting the document as China asserting its authority over the city.

China has constantly stressed that unity is the way forward for the country, as it grapples with demands for greater autonomy in Xinjiang and Tibet.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying speaks to Hong Kong journalists at a press conference during the APEC Summit on 6 October 2013 in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. The current chief executive of Hong Kong is Leung Chun-ying
What is the Hong Kong government's stand?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hailed Beijing's decision on election candidacy as a "major step forward in the development of Hong Kong's society".

His government had said June's unofficial referendum had no legal standing.

It also welcomed the Chinese government's white paper, saying that Hong Kong has benefited from the "one country, two systems" model.

In a report submitted to Beijing in July, Mr Leung said that mainstream Hong Kong society agreed with Beijing on how electoral reform should proceed.

The report was based on public consultation with the Hong Kong public. But it drew fire from pro-democracy activists who said Mr Leung had misrepresented public opinion.

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What's next?

Following Beijing's ruling on election candidacy, Occupy Central's Benny Tai said that dialogue had now come to an end.

He said that there would be an "era of civil disobedience", including a mass sit-in to be organised at a later date in the Central financial district.

The Hong Kong government must still discuss Beijing's election ruling and formulate a bill to be passed by Hong Kong's legislature.

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