Thousands March in Hong Kong

Citizens protest official mismanagement on the anniversary of the island's handover to China.

hkprotest-305.jpg Protesters rally in Hong Kong, July 1, 2011.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Friday in protests marking the anniversary of the territory's return to Chinese rule in 1997, calling for the resignation of Chief Executive Donald Tsang amid growing economic discontent and concerns for the city's political future.

Police struggled to control the marchers whose sheer numbers packed along the main road from the shopping district of Causeway Bay to government offices in the Central business district, protesters tweeted from the scene.

"The popular mood has gathered momentum very fast in Hong Kong," wrote popular blogger Wen Yunchao, known by his online nickname, Beifeng.

"There are a lot of flags belonging to the Hong Kong Autonomy Movement."

The march is likely to prove embarrassing for the territory's government, which has already backed down from a controversial change to by-election rules at Beijing's suggestion.

Twitter users linked to a number of photos showing protesters carrying the flag of Hong Kong dating back to British rule, while others carried placards calling for universal suffrage to the city's legislature and for the Chief Executive.

"Protesters in Victoria Park are chanting for the resignation of Donald Tsang," tweeted a reporter with the independent news blog InmediaHK from the scene.

Proposed voting change

Many of the protesters were incensed by a proposed change to voting rules which would ban by-elections in the event that a member of the Legislative Council stood down.

While Hong Kong people enjoy considerably more freedom than residents of mainland Chinese cities to choose their own politicians, express their views in public and take part in demonstrations, many expressed anger that the government had failed to move to full, direct elections from a system that is still largely controlled by the government and pro-China business interests.

Anson Chan, who was second-in-command of Hong Kong's executive branch until the 1997 handover, called on the territory's people to take to the streets.

"All Hong Kong citizens, if they care about our basic rights, should take part in our demonstration today, to send a very clear signal to our government," Chan told reporters amid the jostling of a huge crowd on a street in Causeway Bay.

Hong Kong lawyers have slammed the proposed changes to the voting rules, saying they have been rushed through with scant public consultation, and that they contravene the territory's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Various complaints

Democratic lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan estimated the number of participants at 100,000-200,000, although no figures were immediately available from the police.

Lee said many of the protesters had become increasingly angry at soaring property prices and a growing income gap.

"People only see prices increasing and they're very frustrated," he told local media.

Many protesters carried banners calling for an end to "property barons," while other simply satirized Tsang as an incompetent official who should resign.

Also visible were gay pride marchers who said they were incensed at government backing for a therapy program that claimed to be able to "cure" homosexuality.

One group set up effigies of same-sex couples in wedding clothes on a main street, while others displayed images of gay and lesbian couples in public displays of affection.

Some women's rights activists wore revealing clothing to call for an end to sexual violence and to the blaming of the victims of sexual assault.

"Don't tell me what to wear," read one banner, depicting a pair of legs in a short, lacy skirt.

"I want my sexual autonomy and an end to sexual violence," said another placard.

'Look on the bright side'

Police were out in force, demonstrators said, handing out warnings about "illegal public gatherings" and closing off a ballpark in Wanchai and the mass-transit railway station at Tin Hau to prevent overcrowding.

But official Chinese media told Hong Kong people they should look on the bright side, in spite of recent opinion polls showing high levels of discontent.

"While celebrating the 14th anniversary of its return, it is worth listening to Hong Kong residents' complaints about the changes to their lives," wrote the Global Times, an English-language paper with strong links to the ruling Communist Party, in an editorial on Friday.

"But Hong Kong residents seem to ignore the other side of the story. For 14 years, the Chinese central government has been endeavoring to promote Hong Kong's prosperity and stability," it said.

"Prejudice may only lead to hostility, and this may confine Hong Kong's development," the paper warned.

Reported by RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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