HONG KONG - China on Saturday rejected the demands of Hong Kong people who staged a large prodemocracy march, and analysts predicted the territory will remain in an uncomfortable political standoff for the foreseeable future.
Prodemocracy activists vowed to stand firm in their insistence on universal suffrage - a goal that drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets Thursday for a huge but peaceful rally.
A key mainland official in Hong Kong said it was "irrational" for anyone to call for Beijing to reverse its binding decision, issued in April, that locals cannot directly elect their next leader in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008.
Rally organizers claimed 530,000 people had turned out, but police put the number at 200,000.
"We can't just accept whatever framework China sets for us," said Jackie Hung, a Roman Catholic activist who helped lead the march. "The Chinese government has a responsibility to listen to Hong Kong people's views."
Despite recent conciliatory gestures from all sides of the dispute, political scientists said Hong Kong appeared headed for a prolonged stalemate over the pace of democratic reforms.
Toning down past rhetoric, China has hinted it might allow some opposition Hong Kong lawmakers to visit the mainland after barring them for years as troublemakers.
But Li Gang, deputy head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, said there was no room for negotiation over China's ruling on democracy.
"The National People's Congress had made a final decision," Li said. "As the top judicial authority, its decisions cannot be changed, so to try to attempt something that's impossible is irrational."
A scholar of Chinese politics, Wu Guoguang, said that while Beijing probably won't reverse its stance, it is equally unlikely to try to silence the protesters.
When Britain returned this former colony to China seven years ago, Hong Kong received guarantees that it could enjoy Western-style civil liberties, including the rights of free speech, free press and assembly, for at least 50 years.
"The world can't accept a crackdown in Hong Kong," said Wu, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Prodemocracy figures charge that China has sought to stifle opposition views, citing the recent decisions of three outspoken radio hosts to go off the air amid allegations they were intimidated.
One nongovernmental organization, the Asian Human Rights Commission, has warned of trouble ahead.
"By withholding democracy from the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments are only sowing the seeds of instability and its negative economic consequences by spawning anger and frustration," the Hong Kong-based commission said last week.