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Protests blamed as Hong Kong misses growth targets

HONG KONG – Hong Kong's leadership blamed months of pro-democracy protests Wednesday, February 25, as the economy fell well short of predicted growth in 2014, and warned that "prolonged political bickering" could do more damage to investor confidence.

Hong Kong's growth rate was just 2.3% in 2014, down from 2.9% the previous year and far slower than the three to four percent pace predicted in last year's budget speech.

Delivering his budget for 2015-16, finance secretary John Tsang said local industries had been damaged by more than two months of pro-democracy protests from September last year which brought parts of the city to a standstill.

"Prolonged political bickering is detrimental to public administration and the international image of Hong Kong as a stable, law-abiding and efficient city," he said.

"It may even dampen investors' confidence in Hong Kong. Such self-inflicted harm does not serve the city well."

Tsang announced one-off measures to support sectors he said had been hit by the protests.

"The Occupy movement affected tourism, hotel, catering, retail and transport industries," he said, with relief measures including the waiving of license fees for restaurants, hotels and travel agents as well as waiving administrative fees for taxis and buses.

Tsang predicted "even more vehement" disputes in Hong Kong as the city grapples with how its next leader is chosen.

Beijing has promised that the chief executive will be voted in by the public in 2017 for the first time, but has said that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.

That decision sparked street blockades which brought parts of the city to a standstill for more than two months from September last year. 

The economy's disappointing growth was also due to the weak eurozone and Japan's recession, said Tsang, adding that it was the third consecutive year that growth had fallen short of the annual average of 3.9 percent expansion over the past decade.

The year ahead would be "challenging" with predicted growth of one to three percent as expected US interest rate rises, volatile oil prices and uncertainties in Europe play a part.

He announced a raft of measures to boost public spending, after slashing it last year, as the government comes under increasing pressure over social inequality. – Rappler.com