Pan-democratic lawmakers, who hold 24 seats out of 60 in Hong Kong's legislature, walked out of the chamber ahead of an annual address by embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying, in which he warned that the former British colony could descend into "anarchy" amid an ongoing civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections.
As Leung entered the Legislative Council chamber for the first time since the 79-day Occupy Central pro-democracy movement began, more than 20 pan-democratic lawmakers came in holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the movement, and carrying banners which read: "C.Y. Leung resign," and "I want genuine universal suffrage," before walking out as Leung waited to begin.
Two of them, Albert Chan and Raymond Chan, remained seated, while shouting for Leung's resignation and poking fun at Leung's fixed smile during the protest. Albert Chan was carried from the chamber by security guards.
Calls for Leung's resignation intensified after riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray at protesters in clashes on Sept. 28, at the start of more than two months of mass demonstrations and occupation of major highways in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
The Occupy Central movement, also known as the "Umbrella Movement" after protesters used umbrellas to ward off tear gas and pepper spray, tried to put pressure on Beijing to allow public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for Leung's successor.
China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), announced on Aug. 31 that while all of Hong Kong's five million voters will cast a ballot for the first time in the poll, they may only choose between candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing nomination committee.
Pan-democratic politicians and Occupy protesters have dismissed the Aug. 31 ruling as "fake universal suffrage," and called on the Hong Kong government to renegotiate the election arrangements with Beijing.
They have also demanded Leung's resignation over the use of tear gas and over a legal but undeclared U.S. $6.5 million payout from an Australian company shortly before he was voted into office by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing election committee in March 2012 with just 689 votes.
After a third year in office that was dominated by the Occupy movement and surrounding political debate, Leung said there was a need to correct the "mistakes" of the largely student-led campaign, repeating the government's position that it can't and won't challenge Beijing on election arrangements.
"University students are the future pillars of society and deserve our care," he said. "Hence, there is all the more reason for us to commend them for their merits and correct their mistakes."
"They should be guided towards a full understanding of the constitutional relationship between our country and Hong Kong so that the discussion on constitutional development would not be fruitless," he said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Leung said Hong Kong's election arrangements are specific to its situation, and shouldn't be compared with "international standards."
"As we pursue democracy, we should act in accordance with the law, or Hong Kong will degenerate into anarchy," he warned, criticizing a student publication in particular for its "errors" after it discussed notions of Hong Kong autonomy and identity.
Yuen Yuen-lung, current editor of the targeted Hong Kong University magazine Undergrad, said Leung's comments were an "attempt to suppress press freedom and to damage the editorial independence of our student paper ... in a thinly veiled white terror campaign."
Former Undergrad editor Leung Kai Ping said that the recent magazine issue had discussed the ideas of independence and self-determination for the city, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 after being promised a "high degree of autonomy" and the maintenance of traditional freedoms.
"Now they want to stick that Hong Kong independence label on us, but in fact the article was justified by an in-depth analysis of the way history and culture have shaped the identity of Hong Kong citizens and their political awareness," he told RFA.
"This sort of analysis of Hong Kong identity has been pretty rare in recent years," he added.
Lawmaker and solicitor Paul Tse said he has detected a tightening up of Beijing's policy towards Hong Kong since the Occupy movement began.
"The central government can reserve the right to veto any law of Hong Kong's that it doesn't like," Tse told RFA. "Beijing has been keeping a tighter grip on everything in the past couple of years, especially since the Occupy movement."
Civic Party chairman Alan Leong, who was among those who walked out of the LegCo building, said Leung was undeserving of public respect, and had failed to engage with demands for true democracy.
"As for concrete policies, we detect neither any commitment nor conviction," he told government broadcaster RTHK.
China's ruling Communist Party has resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong since the 1997 handover using the "one country, two systems" formula, which allows the city freedoms not enjoyed by cities on the mainland.
While the territory's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal, Beijing's interpretation is at odds with that of pan-democratic politicians and democracy activists.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.