Reuters International

By Clare Baldwin

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court declined to rule on Wednesday on a challenge filed by activist politicians to a requirement that all election candidates in the city must pledge that Hong Kong is an "inalienable" part of China.

Three politicians made an urgent request to the city's High Court for a review of a new "confirmation form" before nominations for a Legislative Council election end on Friday.

The requirement that candidates pledge that the former British colony is part of China - and that advocating independence could make them ineligible to stand for election - is the latest in a series of issues that have raised concern about what many people in Hong Kong see as mainland China's increasing control.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula meant to guarantee the financial hub's considerable freedoms and separate laws.

But mainland China's refusal to allow unfettered democracy in a 2017 election for the city's leader fuelled pro-democracy protests in 2014, and raised concern among many about the city's prospects.

A series of issues since then has compounded those fears.

Beijing has repeatedly said it would not do anything illegal in Hong Kong.

All three of the political activists who filed the review request had initially intended to stand in the election, but have refused to sign the pledge.

Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung said he saw no urgency in dealing with issue before the nomination period ends.

One of the activists, Avery Ng Man-yuen, said the requirement could mean some candidates for the city's legislative assembly are disqualified from the election.

"This enables them to screen out any candidate who has a political viewpoint they do not want in office," said Ng.

"Today they can use the excuse of Hong Kong independence as a screening criteria. Next term ... it can be anything."

It is not clear whether the Electoral Affairs Commission would allow anyone who does not sign to stand in the election.

Previously, candidates previously only needed to pledge to uphold Hong Kong laws. [L1N1AB04H]

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin, Sharon Shi, Tris Pan and Lindsy Long)

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