HONG KONG- Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday called on Hong Kong to handle political reform effectively, just as opposition democrats in the city planned fresh protests at the slow pace of change.

The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, has grappled with Beijing's Communist Party for more than a decade over a roadmap towards universal suffrage, as guaranteed in the city's mini-constitution.

Hong Kong is drafting a fresh political blueprint to tweak electoral arrangements in 2012 that are aimed at moving towards universal suffrage in 2017.

But the city's various opposition groups known collectively as the pan-democratic camp that controls 23 seats in the city's 60-seat legislature want to give up five of those seats next month in a bid to trigger a referendum on democracy.

During a duty visit to Beijing by Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, Hu praised Tsang's administration and spoke of the city's improving public confidence after the financial crisis.

In rare remarks on Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, Hu called on Tsang to appropriately and effectively deal with political development to maintain Hong Kong's harmony and stability.

Chinese leaders often espouse one-Party rule from Beijing as essential for ensuring harmony and stability among the 1.3 billion people living on the mainland, but the context of Hu's comments convinced Tsang China was promoting democracy in Hong Kong.

The leaders indicated that the central government is sincere about hoping to push forward Hong Kong's democratic development and hope that we can properly handle the constitutional reform work, Tsang told reporters after his meeting with Hu.

It's important that the political reform process moves forward ... I will do my best on this.

The resignations could be the most risky manoeuvre undertaken by Hong Kong's liberal advocates of democratic rights with the influential Democratic Party recently voting against the plan.
A series of major rallies and campaigns, beginning on Jan. 1, are planned to re-energise the democracy push.