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HONG KONG TO HOLD NEGOTIATIONS

The talks will address the electoral system.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's government and the student groups responsible for huge protests that have attracted worldwide attention agreed Tuesday to hold negotiations on the future of democracy here, but some students expressed disappointment at the narrow range of the planned discussions.

In a preliminary session late Tuesday, government negotiators and student leaders agreed that the formal talks set to begin Friday would address how to change the electoral system in Hong Kong. The local authorities and the central government in Beijing have insisted that the changes the students seek are against rules governing the city.

At stake is the method by which Hong Kong's top official, the chief executive, is chosen. In late August, China's legislature restricted candidates for chief executive to those picked by a committee dominated by Beijing loyalists, provoking the protests that exploded Sept. 28.

The students and many of the thousands of Hong Kong residents who demonstrated with them over the past week and a half want nominations to be open, allowing voters, not a committee or a political party, to put forward candidates.

"The government is insincere," Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters Tuesday. "I hope when we actually meet, they can directly face Hong Kong's political issues."

Shum said any move to shut down the protests, which have blocked one of Hong Kong's most important transportation arteries, would scuttle the talks.

With the government demanding that streets be cleared by the start of business this week and calls from some protest supporters to scale back the sit-ins, the number of demonstrators has dwindled drastically.

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