Less than a week after hundreds of thousands of people protested for greater democracy, Hong Kong's leader says he is powerless to ask Beijing to reconsider its decision to deny universal suffrage to Hong Kong's people.

In a meeting Wednesday, 20 pro-democracy lawmakers urged Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa to ask Beijing to reopen the debate over direct elections in Hong Kong. But Mr. Tung turned down the request.

Mr. Tung says he understands the public is disappointed with Beijing's decision but says he has no authority to change that. But he promised to relay the lawmakers' concerns to China's communist leadership.

China's National People's Congress in April ruled out granting universal suffrage for Hong Kong by 2007.

Lawmaker Yeung Shum, chairman of the Democratic Party, expressed disappointment over Mr. Tung's comments. But the democrats vowed to continue their campaign for Hong Kong people to directly elect their leader and lawmakers.

When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a select group of the city's pro-Beijing elite chose Hong Kong's leader and a majority of its lawmakers. But the territory's mini-constitution provides for direct elections in due course.

Universal suffrage is not enjoyed anywhere in China. Under the one country, two systems policy, Hong Kong people are guaranteed greater freedoms and civil liberties than their counterparts on the communist mainland.

Last week, on the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain, at least 200,000 people marched demanding greater democracy.

Mr. Tung has previously assured the public that universal suffrage is a common goal for the people of Hong Kong, but said it will come gradually.