UPDATED at 03:50 p.m. EST on 2015-07-02
More than 40,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday in a now-traditional mass rally on the anniversary of the city's 1997 handover to Chinese rule, calling for political reform and for amendments to the city's constitution, organizers said.
Thousands of people braved sweltering heat to march through the streets of the former British colony, sometimes chanting "No to fake universal suffrage!"
Former student leaders of last year's 79-day pro-democracy Umbrella Movement meanwhile said they would stage an overnight sit-in in the Central business district, promising to leave by morning rush-hour.
Some banners called on Beijing-backed chief executive Leung Chun-ying to step down, while others called for an end to "interference" in academic freedoms, and still others for amendments to the city's post-1997 mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Joshua Wong, a prominent figure in the Occupy Central movement, called from a podium: "C.Y. Leung step down!" shouting: "Remake the future of our city. Build a democratic Hong Kong!"
Yellow umbrellas and banners apparently recycled from last year's Occupy Central civil disobedience movement were also dotted throughout the crowd.
A protester surnamed Wo said the march largely represents widespread dissatisfaction with the post-1997 Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government.
"It has been 18 years since 1997, and we are dissatisfied with the government's performance," Wo said. "The Occupy Central movement last year showed us that our government is impotent."
"They only care about suppressing our voices," said Wo, a veteran protester during the Occupy Central movement. "We have never achieved democracy or universal suffrage."
"But we want to keep speaking out on behalf of the next generation," she said.
Ernest Ho, one of the leaders of Wong's academic activist group Scholarism, said the group is behind proposals to amend the Basic Law following the defeat in the Legislative Council (LegCo) of a Beijing-backed electoral reform package on June 18.
"Since the political reform package was voted down, it is clear that we have reached a political impasse," Ho told RFA ahead of the march.
"We need to find a breakthrough point, so we can get the political system that we should get," he said.
"The Basic Law no longer reflects our Hong Kong values, so we think it should be rewritten."
An Aug. 31 decision from China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), dictated the terms of Hong Kong's move to "universal suffrage," in which each voter would cast a ballot to choose among candidates approved by Beijing.
But democracy campaigners dismissed the idea as "fake universal suffrage," and pan-democratic politicians voted it down in the city's legislature earlier this month.
Backtracking on agreement
Former British colonial-era civil service chief Anson Chan accused Beijing and Hong Kong officials of trying to "rewrite" the Basic Law and of backtracking on the handover agreement.
"I think the problem ... is the fact that the [Beijing] Liaison Office and the Hong Kong government are not sticking to the provisions in the Basic Law but are trying to rewrite and to reinterpret the Basic Law," Chan told government broadcaster RTHK from the sidelines of the march.
She called on the Hong Kong government to adhere to pre-handover promises of "a high degree of autonomy," "one country, two systems," and of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong."
But Chan warned against any amendment to the Basic Law.
"I think there are inherent risks in amending the Basic Law, because it can very quickly turn into a Christmas tree on which everyone will hang their pet amendments," Chan said.
"The pro-Beijing and conservative [forces] will also be pressing for amendments that will even further erode our rights and freedoms," she warned.
Other groups join protest
Elsewhere, "localist" protesters angry over growing mainland Chinese influence in the city, called for independence and a "Hong Kong nation," while one woman was detained by police after running across a street holding a colonial-era Hong Kong flag, according to Twitter users posting from the scene.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) groups, workers' unions, the People Power civic group, pan-democratic political parties, and a marching band staffed by uniformed members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, banned as an "evil cult" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, also took to the streets.
For its part, Beijing declined to issue an invitation to prominent social activist and pan-democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung to its official flag-raising ceremony at Hong Kong's iconic harbor to mark the 18th anniversary of the handover.
Leung accused the government of disrespect toward lawmakers, who have previously all received invitations regardless of political background.
"For them not to invite a single LegCo member is actually a form of disrespect to the Legislative Council," Leung told RFA on Sunday.
"What [Leung Chun-ying] is doing, is encouraging his supporters to bully the pan-democratic camp supporters," he said.
'A bad job'
Meanwhile, Hong Kong political commentator Camoes Tam agreed with Anson Chan's criticism of Beijing.
"We have had three chief executives chosen by Beijing in the past 18 years, and none of them has done a good job," Tam told RFA.
"Hong Kong was first run by a businessman [Tung Chee-hwa], which was a proven failure, then by a civil servant [Donald Tsang], which also failed, though not catastrophically," he said.
"Now we have a homegrown member of the Chinese Communist Party [Leung Chun-ying] running things, which is much worse."
"[Beijing] is clearly not very good at running one of the ... major financial centers in the world, but they still keep trying, like kids playing with artillery," he said.
"One country, two systems is a joke," Tam said.
Across the internal immigration border in neighboring Guangdong province, the authorities have imposed tight controls on activists and dissidents who had planned to join Wednesday's demonstration in Hong Kong.
Guangdong-based activist Ye Du said a growing number of political activists in China are seeking to establish ties with those in Hong Kong, but that they are now routinely denied permits to enter the city for such events.
"It used to be that only the most prominent individuals in the pro-democracy movement wouldn't be allowed to leave the country, while the majority of rights activists had a certain degree of autonomy," Ye told RFA.
"But they started to get worried when large numbers of people went to take part in last year's July 1 demonstration, or were posting about it," he said.
"Now, they have cast their restrictions far wider."
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
CORRECTION: 400,000 protesters is corrected to 40,000.