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China's Xi gives backing to embattled Hong Kong leader

China's newly appointed leader Xi Jinping gestures as he attends a meeting with foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing D
China's newly appointed leader Xi Jinping gestures as he attends a meeting with foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing D

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping gave his backing on Thursday to Hong Kong's embattled leader, Leung Chun-ying, who is under heavy criticism in the territory over unauthorized building works at his home.

Leung narrowly survived a motion of no-confidence this month over the structures at his home that have undermined his integrity and triggered calls for a mass protest on January 1 to lobby for his resignation.

At a meeting in Beijing, Xi appeared to throw his support behind Leung, who was anointed for Hong Kong's top job after being selected by a small body of mostly pro-Beijing elites earlier this year.

"The (Hong Kong) government has done concrete work, it has been proactive and its responsibilities are heavy. The central government endorses the work of the (Hong Kong) government," Xi said in remarks carried on Hong Kong's Cable TV.

Xi added that China's new leadership will not change broad policy directions for Hong Kong and Macau and would uphold the "one country, two systems" principle under which the two territories are allowed to run its own affairs.

Hong Kong and Macau returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and 1999 and promised a high level of autonomy.

Beijing-backed Leung was criticized by pro-democracy lawmakers this month for failing to give a clear account of building works in his hilltop mansion - something he seized upon to oust his rival Henry Tang, when both ran for Hong Kong's chief executive post this year.

In space-starved Hong Kong, embellishments to homes are common to maximize living space, but similar violations have ensnared several prominent officials over the past year.

Leung has endured a difficult half year, wrestling with issues ranging from high property prices and perceived interference from China over education, to grassroots resentment caused by a tide of Chinese visitors and pregnant mainland women cramming maternity wards to gain local citizenship.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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