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Hong Kong leader to residents: Be like "mild and gentle" sheep

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's unpopular Beijing-backed leader on Wednesday called on residents of the southern Chinese city, rocked last year by months of pro-democracy protests, to be more like "mild and gentle" sheep.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made the appeal in his Lunar New Year message to welcome in the Year of the Sheep, which begins Thursday. The message reflects how tensions continue to simmer after the protests ended in December without Leung offering any concessions to the student-led demonstrators.

"Sheep are widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups," said Leung, who's been nicknamed the Wolf by critics who deride him as being cunning and untrustworthy.

"Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts. In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong's future," Leung said in a statement.

Thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters occupied streets across the Asian financial hub for 11 weeks this past fall in what came to be known as the Umbrella Movement, punctuated by violent tear gas- and pepper spray-fueled scuffles with police.

The activists protested Beijing's proposed curbs on planned 2017 elections for Leung's replacement.