Kirk Spitzer, USA TODAY1:33 p.m. EDT June 18, 2015
[size=11](Photo: Vincent Yu, AP)
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TOKYO — Lawmakers in Hong Kong on Thursday rejected a controversial Beijing-backed reform package that would have forced voters in the former British colony to choose the southern Chinese city's next leader only from a list of candidates approved by China's government.
Hong Kong's Legislative Council rejected the plan — labeled a "sham democracy" by pro-democracy advocates — by a vote of 28 to eight.
Under the proposals, Hong Kong's voters would have only been able to choose from candidates for the city's top leadership role, known as its chief executive, approved by a nominating committee appointed by the government in Beijing.
Last year, the proposals sparked months of student-led protests dubbed the "color revolution," with pro-democracy lawmakers and advocates accusing Beijing of reneging on promises to allow Hong Kong voters to pick their top leader through universal suffrage.
Some protesters gathered outside Hong Kong's legislature on Thursday, but remained peaceful.
Hundreds rally as Hong Kong braces for democracy showdown
The rejection of the measures, although expected, is likely to exacerbate tensions between Beijing and Hong Kong, said Wo Lap Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Centre for China Studies.
"Hong Kong-Beijing relations will be even more tense and confrontational," Lam said. "It may be difficult for pro-democracy groups to reopen a dialogue with the Communist Party authorities."
Lam said there were also potential implications for China's relationship with the United States.
"Given that (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping has accused the U.S. of being the instigator and supporter of the 'color revolution' in Hong Kong to subvert Chinese rule, (the vote) will exacerbate confrontations with Washington, which has vowed to support democracy in Asia," Lam said.
Pro-democracy protesters return to Hong Kong streets
Confusingly, the vote came hours earlier than expected, with just over half of the legislature's 70 members present. And a large number of pro-Beijing legislators walked out of the chamber shortly before the measure was brought to a vote.
Under the current electoral system, which now remains in effect, Hong Kong's leader is chosen by a committee of 1,200 people selected by Beijing.
China expressed regret over the rejection of the plans. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated Beijing's support for the proposals, saying it remained the best hope for Hong Kong's continued prosperity.
"That the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region's government should not be elected as such in 2017 is a result we are unwilling to see," Lu told reporters Thursday.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that retains its own legal and financial system and civil liberties such as freedom of speech not seen on the mainland.
The bill's defeat comes at the end of Hong Kong's most tumultuous year since Beijing took control in 1997 after a century and a half of British colonial rule.
For 11 weeks last year, activists camped out on major thoroughfares in three neighborhoods to demand greater electoral freedom but eventually left the streets after exhaustion set in and Hong Kong's unpopular leader, Leung Chun-ying, refused to offer any concessions.
Contributing: The Associated Press[/size]