HONG KONG - Hong Kong officials have dropped plans to introduce compulsory Chinese national education classes in schools that raised fears in the former British colony of pro-Beijing "brainwashing."

The semiautonomous Chinese city's leader, Leung Chun-ying, said Saturday that the government would leave it up to schools to decide whether to launch the classes, and that it would no longer be mandatory.

Leung's retreat follows a week of protests by thousands in front of government headquarters. News reports quoted organizers as saying more than 100,000 took part Friday evening.

The decision comes a day before elections for the city's legislature. Sunday's vote will be the first time the public will be able to choose more than half the seats.

Deepening opposition to the education plans could have undermined support for pro-Beijing candidates.