Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gather to march in
the streets to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
Photo by Reuters
Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have
marched in Hong Kong, many calling for the city's leader to be
sacked, in what could turn out to be the biggest challenge to
Chinese Communist Party rule in more than a decade.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his government
would do its "utmost" to move towards universal suffrage and
stressed the need for stability after nearly 800,000 people
voted for full democracy in an unofficial referendum last
Organisers put the number of protesters at more than 510,000,
emphasising this was a conservative estimate. Police said
some 98,600 had joined the protest at its peak.
Johnson Yeung, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, one
of the organisers of the march, said activists would take to
the streets to occupy the business district if China does not
respond to demands for a direct election in 2017.
Scores of demonstrators dispersed late on Tuesday (local
time), but thousands remained after midnight. Some student
groups, including Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of
Students, prepared to hunker down for the night.
"The Hong Kong government is now controlled by the Chinese
government," said Daniel Cheng, 24, a recent graduate who now
works as a building surveyor.
"My mom said not to be arrested, to be careful. I will try,
but I think I should do what I can for Hong Kong, my
colleagues, my classmates, my friends."
A security blanket was thrown across the heart of the
business district, home to global banks like HSBC and
Standard Chartered, as thousands of protesters lingered. Some
200 police stood guard outside the offices of Hong Kong's
Tempers flared in Hong Kong's heat, fierce humidity and heavy
downpours as thousands found themselves trapped near the
start of the march in the shopping hub of Causeway Bay even
as the head of the march reached the Central business
Police dragged away several protesters as crowds pushed
against barricades. Officers later criticised organisers of
the usually peaceful annual procession, warning that legal
action may follow after they ignored instructions to speed
Activists from the League of Social Democrats burned a copy
of a "white paper" released by Beijing last month that
reasserted its authority over the former British colony. The
group also burned a portrait of Leung.
"This could be the last chance to make our voices heard,"
said Lam Sui-pan, a 22-year-old human rights volunteer, at
the end of the march. A veteran of the last five processions,
he said he had never seen such a big turnout.
Tension is running high after the referendum. Roads were
closed off around Victoria Park, where the rally started.
Surrounded by police, demonstrators marched to Central, some
shouting, "Overthrow the Chinese Communist Party." People
were still leaving the park as the first protesters reached
Central after four hours' marching.
Anson Chan, Hong Kong's former top civil servant and a key
supporter of the unofficial referendum, said the vote was
"They (voters) are not taken in by recent suggestions that we
should pocket whatever we are offered in the hope that more
would come later," she said. "This is just rubbish."
Organisers of the annual July 1 rally, marking the day the
territory returned to China in 1997, were expecting the
largest turnout since 2003, when half a million people
demonstrated against proposed anti-subversion laws that were
Tung Chee-hwa, the city's leader at the time, stepped down in
March 2005, nearly two years before completing his second
"I think in view of the vote of almost 800,000 people in
favour of democracy, real democracy, not the type of
democracy Beijing is suggesting, that today is probably going
to be one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the
democratic movement in Hong Kong," said lawyer Sean Leonard,
from the think tank HKU International Institute of Financial
Law. "It's about time Beijing woke up."
The demonstrators are demanding greater democracy in
elections for the city's leader, or chief executive, in 2017.
They want nominations to be open to everyone. China's leaders
want to ensure only pro-Beijing candidates are on the ballot.
Hong Kong returned to China with wide-ranging autonomy under
the formula of "one country, two systems", allowing such
protests to take place. But China bristles at open dissent,
especially over sensitive matters such as demands for
universal suffrage and the annual June 4 vigil in Hong Kong
to mark the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing
Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao urged a visiting Hong Kong
youth group on Tuesday to make sure young people "staunchly
uphold "one country, two systems," China's Xinhua news agency
reported. Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong went further.
"We are firmly against the radical and illegal activities
launched by very few people, because we all have
responsibilities to defend the bottom line of law which Hong
Kong people cherish," office head Zhang Xiaoming said in
apparent reference to the referendum and planned protests.
"Central government firmly supports the universal suffrage in
Hong Kong, and its sincerity and determination is unswerving.
This kind of sincerity and determination won't have any
change or shake because of the so-called referendum or the
scale of the march."
Activists in neighbouring Macau were likely to watch the Hong
Kong rally closely. A bill there providing lavish perks for
senior civil servants was withdrawn days after the largest
protest since China resumed control over the former
Portuguese colony in 1999.
An activist from self-ruled Taiwan, Chen Wei-ting, who was
denied entry to Hong Kong to take part in the rally, sent a
message via video link.
"There is no way we can get to Hong Kong to stand with you on
the scene, but our hearts are with yours tonight. I believe
the democratic movements of Taiwan and Hong Kong will blossom
in the forseeable future," Chen said.
TRYING ITS BEST
Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 17th
anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, Chief Executive
Leung said the government was trying its best.
"The (special administrative region) government and I will do
our utmost to forge a consensus in the community and work
together towards the goal of implementing universal suffrage
for the chief executive election on schedule and in
accordance with the law," Leung said at Golden Bauhinia
Square, where ceremonies for the handover of Hong Kong were
held in 1997.
Many Hong Kong people are concerned that Beijing is playing
an increasing role in the city's civil and political life
since the handover.
Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the group behind the
unofficial poll, has threatened to lock down Central, home to
some of Asia's biggest companies, as part of its campaign.
It has ruled out taking action to blockade Central on
Tuesday, saying it "wouldn't be the right moment".