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Beijing Says Next Hong Kong Leader to Serve 2 Years

China's top legislative committee has ruled to reduce the next Hong Kong leader's term to two years instead of five. Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong are protesting the move, saying it threatens the former British colony's autonomy from the Communist mainland.

The debate over how long the next leader of Hong Kong should serve started last month with the resignation of Tung Chee-hwa, who stepped down as chief executive two years short of completing what was supposed to be a second five-year term.

The National People's Congress standing committee ruled on Wednesday that the new leader, to be chosen in July, would serve only the remaining part of Mr. Tung's term.

Pro-democracy legislators, who oppose a strong role by Beijing, had called for a new Hong Kong leader to serve a full five-year term. Advocates say the Hong Kong courts should have settled the debate instead of Beijing. In angry remarks at the Hong Kong Legislative Council Wednesday, Independent legislator Leung Kwok Hung accused Beijing of acting unilaterally and against the will of the people.

"I protest against Beijing's interpretation of the Basic Law. I think it's an insult to the Hong Kong people," he said.

David Zweig directs the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He says pro-democracy advocates are upset over what they see as Beijing's disregard for the region's basic law and autonomy.

"These people argue that when the law is very clear, that should be the final position, said Mr. Zweig. "And the basic law is clear on this: the chief executive serves five years. There's nothing about two years. Some would argue there's no ambiguity about it."

The Hong Kong government welcomed the interpretation by the NPC committee saying it effectively settles the term issue. In a statement issued shortly after the ruling, the government stressed referring the matter to Beijing was legal under Hong Kong's constitution, known as the Basic Law.

Hong Kong's government asked Beijing to handle the term dispute, fearing that giving the decision to the courts could result in prolonged legal battles that might delay the selection process.

An 800-member committee made up largely of pro-Beijing representatives is scheduled to pick the new chief executive for Hong Kong on July 10.