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Protesters march in the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday to denounce China's ruling on direct election of a leader in the former British colony.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong must wait another 10 years to directly elect its own leader, China said Saturday, drawing protests from hundreds in the former British colony who said they were being cheated of the right to vote.

Protesters marched, lit candles and raised banners, saying the government in Beijing ignored the wishes of Hong Kong's 7 million people. Proponents of democracy, who say the bustling financial hub is mature enough to choose its own government, had tried to have the first direct elections held in 2007, then in 2012.

"We are extremely disappointed — you could say we are furious — about this decision in ruling out 2012," Democrat Party chairman Albert Ho told the government-run RTHK radio station. "The wishes of the Hong Kong people have been totally ignored."

Hong Kong's political camps are divided on how hard to push China to make good on its pledge to allow direct elections there.

China favored a more gradual approach, partly because it is wary of demands for democracy spilling into parts of the country that lack the civil and political freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong.

"A timetable for obtaining universal suffrage has been set," Hong Kong's leader, Donald Tsang, said in announcing Beijing's decision on Saturday. "Hong Kong is entering a most important chapter of its constitutional history."

Setting a timetable for universal suffrage showed Beijing trusts Hong Kong's people and will allow the wealthy city to focus on developing its economy, according to Qiao Xiaoyang, a senior member of China's parliament who flew to Hong Kong to explain the decision.

He said Hong Kong would be allowed to choose its leader through a direct election in 2017, and all its lawmakers after that, with 2020 the earliest date.

Currently, only half of the 60-seat legislature is elected, and the territory's top leader, or chief executive, is chosen by an 800-member committee largely comprised of Beijing loyalists.

Even with the elections, Ho said, China could retain control by instructing its allies on how to vote on electoral changes.

"What if there is some interference from (Beijing) to veto demands for direct elections in the legislature?" he told supporters outside Hong Kong's government headquarters on Saturday.

Before 2017, changes to the electoral process will still have to win a two-thirds majority in the legislature, dominated by Beijing's allies, and then be sent back to Beijing for approval.

Some were nonetheless hopeful about the announcement.

"This is the first step toward full democracy for Hong Kong," political analyst Li Pang-kwong from Lingnan University said. "It will depend on how much the parties concerned are prepared to compromise to get this passed. They will need to show commitment and gain a consensus if we are to have direct elections in 2017."