Tycoon says protests could damage Hong Kong's reputation

HONG KONG Fri Feb 28, 2014 6:21am EST

1 of 2. Hutchison Whampoa Chairman Li Ka-shing reacts during a news conference announcing the company's annual results in Hong Kong February 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, one of the wealthiest men in Asia, warned on Friday that planned protests to shut down Hong Kong's central business district later this year would damage the Asian financial hub.

Li, who has deep ties to China's ruling Communist Party, uses his annual news conferences to announce company results and also, at times, as a platform to espouse controversial positions.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, enjoys considerable autonomy and broad freedom of speech as a capitalist hub.

Democracy activists in Hong Kong want reforms that could culminate in a direct election for the city's leader in 2017.

Li denounced plans by pro-democracy groups to stage Occupy Central protests to shut down the business district to press Beijing to allow opposition candidates to run in the 2017 poll.

"It will harm Hong Kong," Li told reporters after announcing solid 2013 results for his flagship company Cheung Kong Holdings. <0001.

"It will give people a bad impression ... No matter how many days are involved, each hour will damage Hong Kong. In fact, to fight for democracy, you don't have to occupy Central in order to reach that aim."

Dubbed "superman", Li's wealth and connections have made him a regional power broker.

His comments could stoke public anger over what many residents see as Beijing's meddling in Hong Kong's affairs and resentment towards tycoons as the city's wealth gap worsens.

The city's journalists plan further protests at the weekend to uphold press freedom after an editor of a prominent liberal newspaper was stabbed and seriously wounded on Wednesday.

Li denounced the attack, saying Hong Kong had to stand by its longstanding traditions of freedom of expression.

"If Hong Kong doesn't have the rule of law, it has nothing," the bespectacled and sprightly Li said. "It will cause great damage to Hong Kong if it loses media freedoms."

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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