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Hong Kong bars activist Joshua Wong from local election

Hong Kong bars activist Joshua Wong from local election

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. (Photo: AFP/Alastair Pike)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was barred on Tuesday (Oct 29) from standing in an upcoming local election, after months of huge and frequently violent protests in the city.

Wong, one of the most prominent figures in the otherwise leaderless and faceless movement, accused the government of "political screening" after an election officer ruled his nomination for the November poll invalid.

"The decision to ban me from running for office is clearly politically driven," he said.

"The so-called reasons are judging subjectively on my intention to uphold Basic Law but everyone would know that the true reason is my identity, Joshua Wong."

Such votes have previously attracted little fanfare and been dominated by pro-Beijing candidates. But a summer of unrest has infused a new significance in the poll and prompted a record number of candidates and voters to register.

"It is questionable whether Mr Wong accepts the People's Republic of China's sovereignty over (Hong Kong) and whether he is of the view that independence and referendum would be options for Hong Kong," the returning officer for Wong's district, Laura Aron, said on the decision to exclude him in a statement seen by Reuters.

In response to media enquiries, a government spokesman said Wong's nomination was declared invalid as he advocates "self-determination" for Hong Kong, which is inconsistent with the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.

"The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws," the spokesman added.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong talks to the media outside the Legislative Council during a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition Bill, Jun 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter) FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong talks to the media outside the Legislative Council during a demonstration demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Taiwan's ruling party said on Tuesday that it "deeply regretted" the decision to disqualify Wong and urged Hong Kong to offer "real universal suffrage".

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has been a vocal supporter of democracy in Hong Kong, a stance seen as bolstering her domestic support ahead of elections in January where she has taken the lead.

Self-ruled Taiwan is claimed by China as its own territory. Beijing has proposed to rule Taiwan under a "one country, two systems" formula similar to Hong Kong, guaranteeing certain freedoms.

MORE PROTESTS EXPECTED

Wong, 23, became one of the most well-known pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong after becoming the poster child of the huge "Umbrella Movement" protests of 2014 that failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

Wong and his party, Demosisto, have denied supporting independence for the city.

Any talk of independence incenses Beijing as Chinese President Xi Jinping increasingly emphasises the importance of territorial integrity.

READ: Joshua Wong: Poster child of Hong Kong's 'Umbrella Movement'

READ: China warns Hong Kong protesters: 'Those who play with fire will perish by it'

The government spokesman denied any political censorship in the decision to disqualify Wong.

"There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community."

But the decision sparked criticism that it could intensify the ongoing protests.

"When you keep rigging the only - and lowest level - elections on offer, you're going to make many in #HongKong ... conclude that the only way to be heard is on the streets," Maya Wang, Senior China Researcher for Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

Last year, Agnes Chow, another young pro-democracy leader from Wong's party, was barred from standing in by-elections because her party advocates self-determination for Hong Kong.

In 2016 and 2017, the city's courts ousted six pro-democracy lawmakers for breaches in their swearing-in ceremony and in their oaths of allegiance, a move backed by Beijing. Two of the ousted lawmakers advocated separatism from mainland China.

Wong's disqualification followed another weekend of protests that descended into chaotic clashes with police.

Black-clad and masked demonstrators set fire to shops and hurled petrol bombs, while residents in the working-class district of Mong Kok poured onto the streets to hurl abuse at scores of police officers sent to subdue the protesters.

Police on Tuesday warned of possible road blocks due to plans for an illegal Halloween march on Oct 31, urging members of the public to avoid the area and reminding shops in the vicinity to close early if needed.

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly five months of huge and frequently violent protests which Beijing and its local leaders have taken a hard line against.

Millions have hit the streets, with hardcore activists clashing repeatedly with police, in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

Follow us on Telegram for the latest on Hong Kong: https://cna.asia/telegram

Source: AFP/reuters/ic

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