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Women walk out of a branch of HSBC at Dubai Internet City in Dubai February 5, 2012.

NIKHIL MONTEIRO/REUTERS

HSBC Holdings PLC sidestepped the kind of shareholder backlash on pay endured by competitors, with just 10.2 per cent of shareholders rejecting the pay plan of Europe's biggest bank on Friday.

HSBC said 86.3 per cent of votes at the annual general meeting backed the resolution on remuneration while 13.7 per cent of shareholders either rejected it or withheld their votes.

Last year, 18.7 per cent of HSBC shareholders opposed the pay plan.

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Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver was paid £8-million ($12.6-million U.S.) in 2011 – including a £2.2-million, down from £8.4-million in 2010 when he ran HSBC's investment bank.

Speaking to Reuters after the meeting, John Thornton, an HSBC director and head of the remuneration committee, defended the bank's strategy on pay.

"We believe we have now got a system where the interests of the senior people is now tied very closely to the shareholders," Mr. Thornton said.

A growing number of investors in British companies are registering disapproval at rates of executive pay in what has been dubbed the "shareholder spring".

The revolts reflect public anger at big pay rises for executives at a time when many Britons are struggling to cope with high inflation and weak wages growth.

"The remuneration committee seems to have done more to advance the financial interest of the board rather than shareholders," Catherine Howarth, a private HSBC shareholder told Reuters at the meeting.

Shareholder rebellions in the U.K. have hit companies as diverse as newspaper group Trinity Mirror and oil explorer Cairn Energy.

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Banking rivals Barclays PLC and Credit Suisse Group experienced bigger revolts than HSBC with more than a quarter of their shareholders voting against pay plans.

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