Hong Kong government debates divisive political reforms

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Media captionSecurity inside and outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council is tight ahead of a controversial political reform debate

Hong Kong's government is debating a controversial political reform package ahead of a much-anticipated vote later this week.

Protesters have gathered outside the city's Legislative Council building.

The package will for the first time give citizens the right to vote for their chief executive, in 2017. But candidates will be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

Last September the city saw weeks of large-scale pro-democracy protests.

Hundreds of activists, comprising pro-democracy and pro-Beijing supporters, are outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) premises waving banners and shouting slogans.

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Media captionHong Kong's democracy debate explained - in 80 seconds

Meanwhile amid heightened concern about security in the city, six people accused of a bomb plot appeared in court for a bail hearing. It was not known whether they were linked to the protests.

Hundreds of police officers have been deployed inside and outside the LegCo building.

One of the first speakers in the debate was Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who warned against blocking the package.

"This administration cannot re-launch the (reform) process... political development will inevitably come to a standstill," she said.

Image caption Pro-Beijing and pro-democracy supporters have gathered at the Legislative Council building
Image copyright AP
Image caption Ms Lam, who as chief secretary is the number two leader of Hong Kong, addressed legislators on Wednesday

Outside, a pro-Beijing activist surnamed Chan told Reuters: "The bill needs to go through. We have to support Hong Kong stability. We cannot keep carrying on like this."

But protester Fion Wong told AFP news agency: "I'm here to oppose the so-called democracy."

"Passing it [the bill] would be a betrayal to those who have taken part in the Occupy movement," she added, referring to the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.

Image caption Pro-democracy lawmakers carried mock ballot boxes marked with crosses, signalling their intention to vote against the reform package
Image caption Pro-Beijing activists had posters showing a tick, indicating support for the reform package

Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers, who say the reform proposal does not represent true democracy, look set to vote against the proposal despite warnings from the Chinese government not to do so.

If that is the case, the legislature is unlikely to get the two-thirds majority it needs to pass the bill.

Hong Kong's next chief executive would then be selected as before by a 1,200-member committee, that is currently stacked with Beijing loyalists.

"If the pan-democrats stubbornly insist on vetoing the proposal, democracy in Hong Kong will come to a standstill," Song Ru'an, a Chinese foreign ministry official in Hong Kong, told reporters.

Image caption Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong is among those protesting against the reform package
Image caption Many activists held up signs in yellow, the colour of the pro-democracy movement

It is unclear what China's response will be if the package is vetoed in the vote, which is expected to take place on Thursday or Friday.

China on Tuesday warned against "radical forces" in Hong Kong after police arrested 10 people on suspicion of a bomb plot.

Six suspects appeared in court on Wednesday. They each face a charge of conspiring to cause an explosion or making explosives.

Five men - Chan Yiu-shing, Cheng Wai-shing, Rizzy Pennelli, Wu Kai-fu and Man Ting-lock - were remanded while the sixth person, a woman named Sarene Chan Cheuk-lam, was granted bail, reported The South China Morning Post.

Analysis: Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong

The last time the spectre of bombs exploding on the streets hung over Hong Kong, the city was still a British colony.

But over the past 50 years, despite major upheavals, Hong Kong has remained an uncommonly safe city, home to people holding diverse political views.

So, the news that police had arrested at least 10 people on suspicion of conspiracy to make bombs, ahead of a key vote at the Legislative Council, has shocked and divided the general public.

Read more: Occupy gone sour? 'Bombs' in Hong Kong

Police had earlier said one suspect had claimed to be a member of a "radical local group" but would not name the group or specify motives.

Pro-democracy activists have accused police of launching a smear campaign against them.