HONG KONG�Chinese officials have offered to talk to Hong Kong's pro-democracy politicians in a rare move aimed at defusing tensions before the eighth anniversary of the former British colony�s handover to Chinese rule, RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin services report.

The announcement came via a report late Sunday from the official Xinhua news agency, which quoted an official at Beijing's Liaison Office in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) as saying Beijing wished to enhance communications and have sober-minded talks with people holding different views.

He made the remarks in response to the so called "reconciliation" suggestions put forward by some Hong Kong people, Xinhua said.

"We will take a more active attitude to have exchanges with people from various walks of life and social strata, in an effort to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and seek happiness and well-being for Hong Kong compatriots," the agency quoted the official as saying.

The statement was issued just weeks before hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march through Hong Kong on July 1 calling for universal suffrage.

China made an unexpected and pre-emptive move last month to rule out full and direct elections in 2007 and 2008, when the next chief executive and a new legislature will be chosen.

However, democrats have recently begun to soften their anti-Beijing rhetoric, although they say they will never give up their calls for full democracy.

The official also defended Beijing's ruling, made by the Standing Committee of China's parliamentary body, the National People's Congress (NPC).

"The allegation that the central authorities had not listened to Hong Kong residents' suggestions of launching universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 goes against the fact," the official said.

He said the NPC had made its surprise ruling "based on Hong Kong's practical situation" and in accordance with the principle of "carrying out in an orderly and gradual manner."

It didn�t matter that some Hong Kong people "did not understand the central authorities' decisions for the time being,� saying Beijing believed it was possible to "seek common points while reserving differences.�

The territory will hold legislative elections in September that could see democracy groups taking majority control in the Legislative Council for the first time in China since the Chinese Communist Party took over in 1949.

While the majority of people in Hong Kong want more democracy, it is easy for China to use indirect methods of influence, such as favoring those businesses and publications that take a pro-Beijing line.

The resignations of three of Hong Kong's most outspoken broadcasters in recent months have cast a shadow over the traditional media freedoms guaranteed under the terms of the handover. #####


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