Chinese Premier meets new Hong Kong chief

The new chief executive of Hong Kong met Tuesday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, following his election late last month in a controversial poll closely monitored by Beijing.

Leung Chun-ying, who was chosen as the city's incoming leader by a 1200-strong election committee packed with pro-Beijing elites, is in the Chinese capital for a three-day visit to officially receive his appointment.

"The next five years is a crucial period for the economic development, the improvement of people's livelihood and democracy advancement in Hong Kong," Wen told Leung, according to footage shown on Hong Kong broadcaster Cable TV.

"The priority is to unite all Hong Kong people, strengthen communication with people from all walks of life, get rid of the divisions and differences," he added.

Hong Kong, which was a British colony until it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, enjoys broad freedoms not seen on mainland China under a "one country, two systems" model, but does not yet get to choose its leader by popular vote.

Leung's election on March 25 was immediately contested by part of the local population, and thousands later took to the streets to demand full democracy for the island and to decry Beijing's alleged interference in the vote.

Opinion polls ahead of the election suggested that many in Hong Kong backed neither Leung nor Henry Tang, his main contender, but wanted universal suffrage to choose a new leader to replace outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, Wen pointed out that Hong Kong was currently faced with various challenges, including an economic downturn and inflation.

The new government "must put economic development and improving people's livelihoods in prime position," he was quoted as saying in the report.

The 2012 election has been complicated by the behind-the-scenes machinations of mainland China's own once-in-a-decade leadership struggle, with various factions seeking to flex their muscles ahead of the transition later this year.

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