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LONDON: Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand urged Hong Kong Sunday to hold elections as soon as possible, warning the authorities about moves to "undermine the democratic process". Their statement came as Chinese lawmakers convene to decide on the next steps after Hong Kong's Legislative Council elections scheduled for September 6 were postponed for a year due to coronavirus.

The foreign ministers of the five countries said they were "gravely concerned by the Hong Kong government's unjust disqualification of candidates and disproportionate postponement of Legislative Council elections. "These moves have undermined the democratic process that has been fundamental to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity."

They urged "the Hong Kong government to hold the elections as soon as possible". Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has said it would be pragmatic to extend the term of the current legislature. But there is a question mark over what to do about four opposition lawmakers who have been barred from seeking re-election.

The four pro-democracy legislators were disqualified for breaching a new national security law by calling for international sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong. In their statement, the five foreign ministers called for the disqualified legislators to be reinstated.

The joint statement from the five countries that share intelligence under the "Five Eyes" partnership said the security law was "eroding the Hong Kong people's fundamental rights and liberties. "We support the legitimate expectations of the people of Hong Kong to elect Legislative Council representatives via genuinely free, fair, and credible elections," they added.

Already on Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials, including city leader Lam, involved in enforcing the controversial security law.