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Following protests, Hong Kong backs down on Chinese patriotism classes

Hong Kong officials will not require students to take pro-Beijing Chinese patriotism classes. Public anger over the classes and a fear of brainwashing led to mass protests this week.

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Thousands of protesters show the "stop" sign outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Friday. On Saturday, Hong Kong officials said they would not require students to take "Moral and National Education" classes.

Kin Cheung/AP

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Hong Kong officials backed down Saturday on plans to make students take Chinese patriotism classes following a week of protests in the former British colony sparked by fears of pro-Beijing "brainwashing."

The semiautonomous Chinese city's leader, Leung Chun-ying, said it would be up to schools to decide whether to hold the classes. They were to have become a mandatory subject in 2015 after a three-year voluntary period.

Public anger over the classes has been growing for months. Many feared they were a ploy by Beijing authorities to indoctrinate the city's young into unquestioning support of China's Communist Party, though Leung and other senior officials denied it.

China regained control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997 after more than a century of colonial rule, but the city has been allowed to retain a high degree of autonomy, a separate legal system and civil liberties not seen in mainland China, such as freedom of speech.

Leung's retreat follows a week of protests by thousands in front of government headquarters coinciding with the start of a new school year. Organizers said 120,000 took part on Friday evening, though police put the number at 36,000, local news reports said.

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