A protester dressed as a cultural revolution red guard wearing a wolf mask gestures during a protest urging Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down in Hong Kong.Photo by Reuters
Tens of thousands in Hong Kong have protested against the
city's leader Leung Chun-ying as pressure mounts against the
Beijing-backed politician who has been embroiled in an
illegal construction scandal since taking office in July.
Thronging the streets on New Year's Day (local time), crowds
of people, some dressed in black with colourful banners and
wearing long-nosed Pinocchio masks, chanted "Leung Chun-ying
step down" in a rally that snaked several kilometres towards
While Hong Kong is a largely stable financial hub with a
strong rule of law, the political heat has risen over Leung's
failure to adequately explain seemingly innocuous building
work on his home, corroding public trust and raising
suspicions he may have covered up the scandal last year as he
campaigned for the leadership.
"CY Leung does not have the ability and credibility to handle
even his own personal scandals. How can he lead Hong Kong in
a proper way with political and economic development?" said
protest organiser Jackie Hung.
Leung said last month he had been negligent and apologised
for how he handled questions over his illegally built
basement. Such work is common to maximise living space in
space-starved Hong Kong, but similar minor violations have
ensnared several prominent officials over the past year.
By the evening, organisers put the turnout at the protest at
around 130,000, though police said 17,000 had showed up.
The demonstration was largely peaceful, though police
maintained a heavy presence after two journalists were
roughed up by pro-government supporters at a rival rally on
In a statement, Leung said the government would "humbly"
listen to the public's views. Several thousand of Leung's
supporters also staged a pro-government New Year rally.
China's senior leaders including premier Wen Jiabao have
warned of Hong Kong's "deep rooted conflicts" in the past,
though Beijing has so far publicly endorsed Leung's
administration when he made a duty visit in December.
In a stormy half year since taking office, Leung has also had
to contend with a raft of policy challenges including an
unpopular pro-Beijing education curriculum that was later
shelved, high housing prices, and a massive influx of
mainland Chinese visitors.
Leung, sometimes dubbed the "wolf" for his perceived abrasive
style and close ties to the Communist Party, has a chance to
assuage some public discontent in a policy address in
mid-January, though populist measures aimed at cooling a
red-hot property sector and alleviating poverty have so far
had only a limited impact on the public mood.
While Hong Kong is generally considered an open and liberal
business haven, its leaders since 1997 - when the former
British colony reverted to Chinese rule - have sometimes
struggled politically in the face of mass popular demands for
democracy and more accountable governance.
A half million strong anti-government rally in 2003 later
forced former leader Tung Chee-hwa from office mid-term.