Hong Kong's government Wednesday announced a roadmap for leadership elections that offered no concessions to the city's democracy camp -- prompting opposition lawmakers to walk out as the plan was unveiled.
Deputy leader Carrie Lam said the first-ever public vote for the post of chief executive in 2017 would be held in "strict compliance" with a ruling by China's National People's Congress last August.
That ruling stated that candidates for chief executive must first be approved by a loyalist committee -- a decision that sparked more than two months of street protests that paralysed the city towards the end of last year.
Lam said that voters in 2017 would choose from two to three candidates chosen by a 1,200-strong nominating committee.
That committee would reflect the current make-up of the pro-Beijing election committee, which up until now has chosen the city's leader, she said.
"These proposals are in strict compliance with the Basic Law (Hong Kong's constitution) and the relevant decisions of (China's) Standing Committee of the National People's Congress," Lam said.
"At the same time they fully take into account the views expressed by various sectors of the community," she added.
Lam described constitutional development as "complex and controversial".
"It is neither practicable nor realistic to expect that one package of proposals can meet the ideals cherished by different people," she said, adding that the plan had attempted to strike a balance between "numerous divergent requests and perspectives".
Most pro-democracy legislators marched out of the chamber following Lam's speech.
"The pan-democrats would like to condemn strongly the government," said Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong, one of those who walked out.
"We will launch a campaign to oppose the proposal and we will ask the Hong Kong public to continue to seek true universal suffrage," he added.
Pro-democracy lawmakers wore T-shirts and displayed placards emblazoned with a yellow "X", symbolising their intention to block the proposal when it comes to the vote in the legislature in the coming months.
Lam argued that blocking the plan would deprive the public of their chance to vote.
She called on legislators to cooperate and described the proposal as "lawful, fair and reasonable".
"This is a call made on you by this era, and it is history which places this responsibility on your shoulders," she said.
Protesters gathered outside the government complex with pro-democracy demonstrators calling for "true universal suffrage" and carrying yellow umbrellas -- a symbol of the movement.
They were met with pro-government protesters waving large Chinese national flags.
Dozens of police were patrolling the area outside the government complex, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
A police spokesman refused to comment on whether extra security measures were being taken in the wake of the announcement.
The legislature is reported to be stepping up security at government headquarters from May 1 after protesters smashed windows there twice last year and stormed the building.
Measures include extra security checks, roller shutters and metal barricades, the South China Morning Post reported.