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Hong Kong backs down on plan to make kids learn Chinese patriotism

The government of former U.K. colony Hong Kong – part of China since 1997 – has backed down from a plan to make elementary schools teach Chinese patriotism to students, according to reports.

The plan sparked complaints that the Chinese government in Beijing was attempting to brainwash children, BBC News reported.

Following the protests, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said Saturday individual schools now would be allowed to choose whether to introduce the classes.

"The schools are given the authority to decide when and how they would like to introduce the moral and national education," he said, according to the BBC.

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Leung called the move on the education plan a "major policy amendment", saying he had heard and understood the public's criticism, Reuters reported.

The government noted the scheme had not been withdrawn and that schools could introduce it as they saw fit.

"We don't want the recent controversy to affect the operations of schools, nor do we want to see the harmony of the education environment to be affected (by the scheme)," Leung said, according to Reuters.

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The South China Morning Post reported that the Hong Kong had planned to introduce “mandatory national education” in elementary schools by 2015.

Reuters said tens of thousands of people -- parents, teachers and students -- had staged a week-long protest, claiming the curriculum amounts to Communist Party propaganda that glosses over the darker aspects of Chinese rule.

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The decision comes on the eve of elections in Hong Kong that will see a legislature expanded from 60 to 70 seats, with just over half of them to be directly elected.

The Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader has drawn criticism over a series of issues since he took office on July 1, including the national education program, sky-high property prices and concerns about an influx of mainland Chinese visitors to the former British colony.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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