TENS OF THOUSANDS IN HONG KONG DEMOCRACY RALLY


2004.01.02
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Demonstrators call for direct election of chief executive, all legislators

Tens of thousands of people staged a rally in Hong Kong on New Year's Day, calling for full democracy in the territory, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Amid shouts of "Power to the people" and demands for direct elections for the city's rulers, demonstrators estimated that 100,000 people marched from Victoria Park to government headquarters in the Central business district.

Police said as many as 37,000 people were at the park when the rally started, but that more people were involved in other stages of the protest. Protesters dispersed peacefully after arriving at government offices, some of them tying yellow ribbons around the railings outside the government compound.

The demonstration came exactly six months after half a million people took to the streets to protest against an anti-subversion bill proposed by the Hong Kong government and backed by Beijing. The turnout exceeded predictions by organizers, who said earlier that people would have less impetus to protest this time.

"We have made history again!" rally spokesman Richard Tsoi told reporters, adding that the march showed that Hong Kong's "people power" movement hadn't faded away. "It clearly shows that Hong Kong people still have a very strong desire for full democracy," he said.

"We want full democracy�the right to elect our own chief executive and all members of the Legislative Council," Tsoi said. "It is important for Hong Kong people to stand up and voice their demands strongly and clearly."

One protester, James Tang, 37, a legal assistant, told Agence France-Presse: "They (the government) are making promises they don't intend to keep and we don't believe them anymore. We have to fight for our rights. We have to fight for democracy."

A government spokesman said in a statement the administration would "listen carefully" to the views and aspirations of the public. "It is the clear duty of the government to pursue democratic advancement in accordance with the Basic Law. The government will use the three years to address the issues of constitutional development after 2007. We will start listening and collecting public views as soon as possible," he said.

Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are demanding that the government and Beijing commit to a firm timetable for implementing political reforms, including direct elections of Hong Kong's next leader by 2007.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has pledged to start discussions on constitutional change early this year. Tung, who was chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee, presides over a legislature in which only 30 of the 60 seats are directly elected by popular ballot.

Direct elections for the chief executive are not scheduled to be held before 2007 under Hong Kong's post-1997 constitution, with elections for currently unelected seats in the legislative council to follow a year later.

Chinese president Hu Jintao said last month that political reforms should be carried out gradually and in accordance with the Basic Law�the city's mini-constitution.

China's leaders were surprised and shocked by the strength of popular anger against Tung, and gave their blessing for him to withdraw controversial national security legislation following the demonstrations on the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, on July 1, 2003.

Protesters feared the bill would erode civil liberties and media freedom, long a hallmark of political life in Hong Kong. Many marchers called for Tung's resignation, and two members of his cabinet resigned following the demonstrations. #####

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