Britain urges 'constructive' Hong Kong democracy talks

Pro-democracy protesters block off a major road in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on September 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Alex Ogle)

London (AFP) - Britain on Monday voiced concern about the escalating protests in Hong Kong and called for "constructive" talks, saying it hoped they would lead to a "meaningful advance for democracy".

"We hope that the upcoming consultation period will produce arrangements which allow a meaningful advance for democracy in Hong Kong," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

It said it was "concerned" about the situation in the former British colony which was handed over to China in 1997.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg meanwhile voiced support for the protesters.

"I sympathise a great deal with the brave pro-democracy demonstrators taking to the streets of Hong Kong," he tweeted.

"Universal suffrage must mean real choice for the people of Hong Kong and a proper stake in the 2017 election," he wrote.

Tens of thousands of defiant protesters in Hong Kong prepared for a night of clashes after fighting street battles with police.

The demonstrators have demanded full universal suffrage after Beijing last month said it would allow elections for the semi-autonomous city's next leader in 2017 but would vet the candidates -- a decision branded a "fake democracy".

The Foreign Office spoke of the need for Hong Kong to preserve the right to demonstrate and for its inhabitants to exercise their rights "within the law".

"These freedoms are best guaranteed by the transition to universal suffrage," the statement said.

The Foreign Office referred to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which enshrines the "one country, two systems" principle and is meant to preserve Hong Kong's capitalist system and way of life for a period up to 2047.