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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were warned on Thursday against holding mass protests as part of their campaign for the right to choose their own candidates for a poll in 2017 to elect the capitalist hub's next leader.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said during a stormy legislative session that the authorities were ready to act if the activists pursued a campaign of civil disobedience named "Occupy Central" to seal off the city's business district unless Beijing allows a truly democratic poll.
"We are not going to sit with arms folded, and we are not going to underestimate the seriousness of the matter," Leung said, as several radical lawmakers raised objections and called for his resignation.
"Even if you do so, you are not going to force the central authorities to accede to your demand," Leung said.
"I, myself, the Security Bureau and police put a lot of emphasis on this and we are working on all fronts, including getting prepared for operations," he added, without saying what measures might be taken.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy under the formula of "one country, two systems" - along with an undated promise of full democracy, an issue never broached by the British during 150 years of colonial rule.
China has agreed to let Hong Kong elect its next leader in 2017 in what will be the most far-reaching version of democracy on Chinese soil. Specific arrangements, however, have yet to be decided including, crucially, whether public nominations of candidates including opposition democrats will be allowed.
The activists fear that candidates will be nominated by a small election committee stacked with Beijing loyalists that would veto opposition candidates nominations.
The looming Occupy protest has unnerved Beijing officials who have warned against it, while Leung has previously said it wouldn't be lawful nor tolerated by the police.
Separately, Leung said on Thursday the city has no intention of easing property cooling measures, where prices have surged nearly 120 percent since 2008 due to an ultra-low mortgage rates, tight supply and abundant liquidity.
Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by James Pomfret and Simon Cameron-Moore