Hong Kong (AFP) - Three Hong Kong democracy protest leaders were Saturday denied permission to board a flight to Beijing, where they had hoped to bring their demand for free elections directly to Chinese authorities.
The leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, spearheading mass rallies that have paralysed parts of the city for more than six weeks, said airline officials informed them that their permits used for travel to the mainland had been cancelled by Chinese authorities.
"Today they can say they take away the students' Home Return Permits but it symbolises that they will take away a generation of Hong Kong people's right to decide their own fate in the future," HKFS leader Alex Chow told a press conference late Saturday.
"This whole situation defies logic."
Protesters have been occupying key intersections around the former British colony calling for fully free leadership elections in 2017, but Beijing has insisted that all candidates be screened by a loyalist committee.
Fruitless talks with the Hong Kong government almost a month ago have led to an impasse and protest leaders had planned to travel to Beijing to bypass the unpopular local administration altogether.
"We have received information from relevant departments on the mainland that the Home Return Permits of the passengers in question have been cancelled," a Cathay Pacific staff member told the trio, footage from Cable Television News showed.
The permit, issued by mainland authorities, allows Hong Kong residents free travel within mainland China, but some of the city's pro-democracy figures have been denied access to the country in the past.
Before they were turned back, the three leaders -- Nathan Law, Eason Chung and Chow -- were mobbed by supporters who unfurled yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the city's democracy movement.
- 'Why would they fear three students?' -
They also carried banners with pro-democracy messages including "we want real elections".
"People say China is now a grand country, so why would they fear three students entering the border to seek an audience with Chinese officials?" Chow said.
"Dialogue is important for resolving the current (situation) but it depends on whether Beijing has the initiative to open talks with students."
A member of another student activist group Scholarism was denied entry into the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen late last week. The group said the volunteer was barred for taking part in "activities against national security".
The city's number two official Carrie Lam on Tuesday said there was "no need" for student leaders to go to Beijing if they were only going to repeat previous demands.
The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" principle which promises to maintain the city's social and economic systems until 2047.
But democracy activists say Hong Kong's freedoms have been steadily eroded under Chinese rule.
The protesters are demanding civil nominations in leadership elections for the semi-autonomous city in 2017.
China has refused to back down on its insistence that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, a decision critics say is designed to ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.