An outspoken Hong Kong lawmaker said he tried to travel Thursday to Beijing to press the country's communist leaders to allow greater political freedoms in the former British colony, but was turned back at the mainland border.
Leung Kwok-hung, an activist-turned-lawmaker, said he was refused entry by China's border police because he lacked the necessary travel documents.
Leung _ known for his waist-length ponytail and trademark Che Guevara T-shirts _ has been banned from visiting mainland China due to his outspoken criticisms of Beijing's heavy-handed crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
Like many pro-democracy activists, he has been refused a "home-return permit," the document that allows Hong Kong Chinese to travel to the mainland without a visa.
Together with three colleagues, Leung had intended to petition the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress _ the lawmaking arm of the Chinese government _ for direct elections in Hong Kong by 2012.
"It is our responsibility to display and reflect the conscience of the Hong Kong people with regards to universal suffrage," Leung told The Associated Press by phone after his failed attempt to travel to China.
Local TV showed a scuffle as security officials tried to stop the cameraman from filming Leung being taken away by plainclothes police.
Law Jou, the only member of Leung's group who had a valid travel document, was able to fly to Beijing as planned. However, he was stopped at the capital's airport by about half a dozen unformed security officials who hustled him away, Hong Kong's Cable TV showed. The officers refused to answer reporters' questions of where they were taking Law.
The government in Beijing has been debating Hong Kong's political development and is expected to make an announcement Saturday. Many fear it will stop short of public demands for full democracy, which one lawmaker suggested could spark street protests.
When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 it was granted a wide degree of autonomy and a pledge that it would ultimately be allowed to directly elect all of its legislators and its leader, although no date was ever given.
A decade on, still only half of the 60-seat legislature is elected, and the territory's top leader, or chief executive, is chosen by an 800-strong committee full of Beijing loyalists.
Democrats say the city _ a bustling international financial center_ is mature enough to choose its own government. Beijing and its allies want a more gradual approach.
Pro-democracy activists, however, are losing patience with Beijing, and any more foot-dragging on the pace of political reform could see them take to the streets, Civic Party lawmaker, Ronny Tong, told government-run RTHK radio.
"Moderate democrats are not getting anywhere, especially on this issue of political reform. Our voices are simply not being heard," he said.
"If things are not working in the legislature, and if things are not working out officially, then I think people will turn underground and it will go back to the streets," he said.
Public discontent hit a turning point in 2003 when half a million people poured onto the streets to protest an anti-subversion bill that many feared would curtail civil liberties. The bill was subsequently shelved.