Beijing China on Wednesday rejected a media report that it is drawing up a plan to remove Hong Kong's beleaguered Chief Executive Carrie Lam, describing it as a "political rumour with ulterior motives".
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying rejected the report by London-based Financial Times, which claimed that China plans to replace Lam with an interim chief executive.
"It was a political rumour with ulterior motives behind it," Hua told the media here when asked for her reaction to the FT report.
It was not clear yet whether China is playing down the report as Lam's resignation is a prime demand of the pro-democracy protestors.
Beijing had also declined to permit Lam to withdraw the controversial extradition bill, which sparked the protests. The bill was withdrawn on Wednesday by the Hong Kong government in the local legislature in big win for the protestors.
While backing Lam, Hua stressed that the central government would continue to firmly support her and the Hong Kong government's efforts to stop the violence and restore order as soon as possible.
Earlier, China toyed with the idea of deploying its security forces but refrained apprehending more protests.
According to the FT report, which quoted unnamed sources, Beijing was planning to replace Lam with an "interim" leader by March 2020.
It said that leading candidates for the position included former financial secretary Henry Tang Ying-nien and Norman Chan Tak-lam, the previous head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
Rumours of the future of 62-year-old Lam have been swirling around after she hinted last month that she wanted to quit.
Last month a recording of a private meeting emerged where she is heard saying: "If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit."
But she said later that she had "never tendered any resignation", but did not deny the authenticity of the recording. Apparently, Beijing has not granted her permission to resign.
For its part, the Chinese government which is in quandary over handling the protests wrecking the city, famous for being a centre of international business and commerce, has been backing Lam and Hong Kong police who also faced serious allegations of violent crackdown against protests.
The anti-government protests over a bill which was aimed at extraditing locals to be prosecuted in the Communist Party controlled courts tested the Chinese leadership's patience to the hilt.
Since June, Hong Kong has been witnessing unprecedented protests with thousands of people demanding the local government to withdraw the legislation.
In a flip-flop over the intensified protests Lam first said the bill is dead but declined to withdraw it as the protests continued.
Finally, the Hong Kong government on Wednesday withdrew the most unpopular extradition bill which lead to over 20 weeks of protests. The protests later transformed into a campaign for greater democratic change.
Besides the demand to withdraw the bill, the protestors are also calling for Lam's resignation, inquiry into police brutalities and universal franchise of one person one vote with freedom for all the locals to contest the elections for the legislature.