Beijing: China effectively barred two elected pro-independence lawmakers from Hong Kong's legislature Monday after they deliberately misread their oaths, saying that they could not be sworn in again.
An oath that did not conform to Hong Kong's law "should be determined to be invalid, and cannot be retaken", the Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing said in a rare interpretation of the semi-autonomous city's constitution.
Legislators had to be "sincere and solemn" when taking their oaths, and had to pledge "completely and solemnly" to uphold the Basic Law of Hong Kong as part of the People's Republic of China, the NPC declared at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.
The question has become hugely sensitive in Hong Kong, the former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a promise of "one country, two systems" and where fears of increasing encroachment by Beijing have been rising, prompting mass protests two years ago.
Pro-independence legislators Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching deliberately misread their oaths of office for seats on the Legislative Council (Legco) last month.
Beijing sees any talk of independence as treasonous and the official Xinhua news agency quoted a spokesman for the government's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office welcoming the ruling.
"The interpretation demonstrates the central government's firm determination and will in opposing 'Hong Kong independence,'" the spokesperson said, adding that it "complies with the common aspiration of the entire Chinese people, including the compatriots in Hong Kong".
Hong Kong police used pepper spray Sunday to drive back hundreds of protesters angry at China's decision to intervene in the row.
Li Fei, the chairman of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, told reporters: "These Hong Kong independence figures are going against the country and splitting the country. How can they uphold Hong Kong's Basic Law?"
"I hope people can see the real face of these people," he added.
Ahead of the ruling, the state-run Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, backed Beijing's intervention.
Leung and Yau, it said in an editorial "publicly disgraced this country and advocated Hong Kong does not belong to China".
Their actions had "caused divisions in society", it said, adding: "A few people of radical opposition are creating chaos among public opinion and affected the understanding of some Hong Kong people. The fallacies they created must be cleaned up."