By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese state media lashed out at Hong Kong's opposition pro-democracy lawmakers on Friday after the legislature in the financial hub vetoed a Beijing-backed electoral reform package.
The rejection was a rare instance of Hong Kong, the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, voting so heavily against a proposal endorsed by China's central legislature.
The largely rubber-stamp regional legislatures around China would likely never reject an order from Beijing to pass a bill, so the Hong Kong veto is both a setback and an embarrassment for the ruling Communist Party.
Beijing had pressured and cajoled the city's pro-democracy lawmakers to back the blueprint that would have allowed a direct vote for the city's next chief executive in 2017, but only among pre-screened, pro-Beijing candidates.
It had been feared before the vote there could be a repeat of pro-democracy protests that shut down key areas of the city late last year in what became one of the biggest political challenges Communist Party leaders had faced in decades.
"The conduct and deeds of the opposition faction show that they are disturbers and destroyers in the process of the democratization of Hong Kong," the party's official People's Daily newspaper wrote in a commentary in its overseas edition.
"The goal of their veto of the universal suffrage bill is to contest the governance of Hong Kong by the central government, conspiring to turn Hong Kong into an independent political entity," it wrote, referring to the 28 lawmakers who voted against the proposal.
Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition calls Beijing's proposal a "fake" democratic model.
"All those who voted against the blueprint might be cocky today, but they will face the judgment of history and shoulder the responsibility eventually," influential tabloid The Global Times, published by the People's Daily, said in an editorial in its English-language edition.
"We are concerned that a Pandora's box is being opened in Hong Kong and various devils are released to ruin the region's future," it said, warning that Hong Kong could "degenerate from the capital of finance and fashion to a total mess".
Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives it a separate legal system and greater freedoms than the party-ruled mainland - and the promise of eventual universal suffrage.
Thousands of pro-democracy activists blockaded major roads across Hong Kong for 79 days late last year, defying tear gas and pepper spray.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)