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Hong Kong asks Beijing for greater democracy

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Photo - Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, wearing a red T-shirt in center, is stopped by security guards as he throws a plastic hammer towards Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, third from right,  during a meeting on proposing electoral reforms at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The chief executive has submitted a report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee on political reform, saying that the majority of Hong Kong people are eager to have universal suffrage in the chief executive election in 2017.  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, wearing a red T-shirt in center, is stopped by security guards as he throws a plastic hammer towards Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, third from right, during a meeting on proposing electoral reforms at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The chief executive has submitted a report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee on political reform, saying that the majority of Hong Kong people are eager to have universal suffrage in the chief executive election in 2017. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's government formally asked Beijing on Tuesday for legal changes that will ultimately let residents of the southern Chinese city elect their leader for the first time, but downplayed calls for the public to nominate candidates free of China's vetting.

The former British colony's Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, said in the report that consultations with nearly 125,000 people and groups in the city found they were "eager" for universal suffrage. He advised Beijing that changes to Hong Kong's mini-constitution were needed for democratic reform, kicking off a process that will let voters pick the city's next leader in 2017.

The report, however, made scant mention of widespread calls to allow the public to put forth candidates without Beijing's interference, saying many people were happy to leave it up to an elite nominating committee similar to the one that has handpicked all of Hong Kong's postcolonial leaders.

The report, also posted on a Hong Kong government website, is sure to add to discontent among residents already upset over Beijing's growing influence in the former British colony.

It comes two weeks after an estimated half a million people took to Hong Kong's streets in an annual rally to press for full democracy. Turnout was boosted after Beijing released a "white paper" policy document in June asserting its complete authority over Hong Kong, which is promised a high degree of control over its own affairs under the principle of "one country, two systems."

Nearly 800,000 people last month took part in an informal poll organized by a pro-democracy group, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, to gauge support for genuine democracy in the city. The group has raised the heat in the debate over electoral reform by vowing to rally at least 10,000 supporters to shut down the Asian financial center's central business district to press for democratic reforms that meet international standards.

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