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Hong Kong's Lam defends China's plans to ensure loyalists lead city

·2 min read

HONG KONG, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's Chief ExecutiveCarrie Lam endorsed plans by Beijing to ensure "patriots" rulethe city, saying on Tuesday they were needed to stop hatred ofChina and sustain the 'one country, two systems' governancemodel for the Asian financial hub.

Her comments, made at a regular weekly news conference, comeafter a key member of China's cabinet signalled changes to HongKong's electoral system that would further reduce thepro-democracy opposition's influence in the city.

Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao AffairsOffice of the State Council, said Hong Kong can only be ruled by"patriots", a term he said includes people who love China, itsconstitution and the Communist Party and excludes anti-China"troublemakers."

The measures would further consolidate the authoritarianturn Hong Kong has taken since Beijing's imposition of asweeping national security law in June 2020 and the arrest ofmost of its prominent democratic politicians and activists.

Lam built on Xia's comments on Tuesday, listing a series ofanti-government protests since the former British colonyreturned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement thatpreserved wide-ranging freedoms not present in mainland China.

Protests demanding democracy or blocking legislationproposed by the various pro-Beijing governments, whichculminated with the mass demonstrations in 2019, stoked "hatred"against Beijing and the Hong Kong government, Lam said.

"These series of incidents made the central governmentworried, and of course, for me, as the chief executive, it isalso worrying," Lam told reporters.

"To stop the situation from worsening to a point that 'onecountry, two systems' could hardly be carried out, the problemsneed to be tackled at a central government level."

The changes, likely to be announced in March, are expectedto restrict who could run in legislative elections and lead tothe disqualification of most lower-level district councillors -the majority of them being pro-democracy politicians.

New rules could also skew a 1,200-member committee whichelects the city's leader in favour of the pro-Beijing camp.(Reporting by Sharon Tam; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing bySimon Cameron-Moore)