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Umbrella Movement icon Joshua Wong barred from Hong Kong election

Joshua Wong, secretary-general of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Demosisto party, poses before submitting his application for the 2019 District Council Election in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019.
Joshua Wong, secretary-general of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Demosisto party, poses before submitting his application for the 2019 District Council Election in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019. Susana Vera, Reuters

Hong Kong authorities barred high-profile pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from an election, and the city's leader ruled out political solutions before the end of the violent protests gripping the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. 

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The developments Tuesday were likely to further widen divisions in Hong Kong, which has been wracked by more than four months of unrest driven in part by demands for political reform. Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, also warned that the Asian financial hub was on the brink of an economic recession.

A returning officer notified Wong his nomination as a candidate in next month's elections was ruled invalid, according to a copy of the letter Wong posted on his Twitter account .

The government confirmed Wong's disqualification, without identifying him. It indicated the problem was related to a candidate advocating "self-determination" for Hong Kong, which it said conflicts with the requirement for candidates to declare they'll pledge allegiance to the city and uphold its constitution.

Wong, 23, became known as the young face of Hong Kong's "Umbrella Movement" that peacefully occupied streets for 79 days in 2014, and he has since been repeatedly arrested and jailed. He has been less important to the current protest movement, which has been leaderless and whose participants have sought to remain anonymous.

His activities have nonetheless made him a target of China's communist leaders, who have used him to accuse foreign powers of colluding with anti-China separatists to foment unrest.

Wong said on Twitter that being barred proves Beijing is manipulating the election through political censorship and screening.

Wong and other pro-democracy activists were disqualified from running in previous elections. But the others have reportedly been approved for the Nov. 24 local district council elections, making him the only one to be banned.

The disqualification came as Lam ruled out finding a political resolution before ending protest violence.

"For the government to resort to measures that will appease the violent rioters, I don't think that is the solution," she told reporters.

"Until and unless we tackle the violence and put an end to it, it is very difficult to continue the political dialogue we have done," Lam said.

Hong Kong has been gripped since early June by the political crisis, with peaceful but often unauthorized marches descending into chaos as hardcore demonstrators hurling fire bombs and bricks battle police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. Both sides blame each other for using increasingly aggressive tactics.

Lam said the city is at risk of falling into a recession as it enters its fifth month of protests, which has punished the city's tourism and retail industries.

"If this quarter's growth rate, compared to the second quarter's growth rate, is negative, it will be the second decline in a row. Then it can be said that we have entered a technical recession," she said, adding that the economy could end up contracting for the year as a whole.

(AP)

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