HONG KONG (Reuters) - A growing number of Hong Kong students support independence for the former British colony, amid sliding confidence in the "one country, two systems" formula under which the city is governed, an online poll by a university magazine showed.
The findings come a month after Hong Kong's embattled leader Leung Chun-ying warned against the rise of separatism, after parts of the city were paralyzed last year by more than two months of pro-democracy protests.
About 28 percent of 569 students polled by Undergrad, a student union magazine of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), supported independence, up from 15 percent in a similar poll early last year.
Some 53 percent of respondents favored the "one country, two systems" formula as the best political structure for Hong Kong, down from 68 percent in early 2014, according to the poll, done between Jan. 24 and Feb. 5.
In January, Leung expressed concern that universities could be incubating a separatist movement that could threaten Beijing's sovereignty. He singled out Undergrad magazine for advocating self-determination.
The poll showed the number of students who agreed to stick to the principle of non-violent and peaceful protests fell to half from 76 percent last year, while the fraction of those who disagreed with non-violent rallies rose to 37 percent from 21 percent, suggesting future protests could be more aggressive.
The most preferred means of protest included going on strike, occupying government buildings, gatherings, blocking main roads and marching, the poll showed.
Last year's so-called "Umbrella Movement" protests, calling for full democracy in Hong Kong, posed the greatest challenge to China's authority since Beijing crushed a pro-democracy movement in 1989.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives the city more autonomy and freedom than the mainland. Beijing has allowed elections to pick the next chief executive, but wants to screen candidates first.
Tens of thousands of student-led protesters camped out on major roads for more than two months last year in a push for direct elections without Chinese curbs, before police cleared the camps in December.
Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Clarence Fernandez