Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders denied permit to Beijing

Hong Kong pro-democracy students are denied permits to fly to Beijing, where they hoped to talk with officials

Three student leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests were denied permission Saturday to board a flight to Beijing, where they hoped to seek direct talks with top central government officials.

The representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students were told that their travel permits to the mainland had been invalidated by authorities. No further explanation was given.

The three had sought talks with Premier Li Keqiang, or members of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, because they believe Hong Kong authorities are unable to resolve the fundamental issues that sparked the demonstrations.

Protesters in Hong Kong took to the streets in late September to express their anger over guidelines for the semi-autonomous territory's 2017 chief executive election issued in August by the standing committee. Though the guidelines say voters will be allowed for the first time to directly cast ballots for the chief executive, the panel also ordered that all candidates must be approved by a screening committee that is widely expected to be largely composed of pro-establishment figures. Demonstrators contend this arrangement amounts to "fake democracy" and want the rules rescinded.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a framework known as "one country, two systems."

A dialogue between Hong Kong officials and some protest leaders last month yielded no progress to resolve the political impasse.

Federation leader Alex Chow said he was not sure whether all members from HKFS are now barred from entering the mainland. A former member of the group who accompanied the trio also was denied permission to travel.

"There is a high possibility that a [black] list exists," said Chow.

Leung Kwok-hung, a prominent liberal Hong Kong activist better known as "Long hair" Leung, said it was a basic right of Hong Kong people to travel into the mainland. This move "reflects the fact that the government is insincere on this issue," said Leung.

Hong Kong citizens can travel freely to the mainland with their "home return permit," officially known as the Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macau Residents. Chow said all three were in possession of permits. Chow said it was unclear what department invalided the documents. The group learned of the situation when they tried to check in luggage for their flight. 

But Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong government's No. 2 official, reiterated Saturday the students had no need to make the trip. She said the central government had properly considered public opinion in Hong Kong before handing down its decision in August.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared the protests illegal and police have announced they intend to clear the occupied streets soon, perhaps as early as Monday.

Hui is a special correspondent.

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