HONG KONG—Hundreds of people opposed to a planned U.S. $8.6 billion high-speed rail-link to China converged on Hong Kong's legislature Friday evening, supported by activists in China through microblogging services.
Twitter users posted photographs of gathering crowds outside the Legislative Council buildings in the central business district, calling for 10,000 people to surround the buildings as lawmakers debated whether to approve finance for the controversial railway.
User pocheung wrote: "Now I guess there are around 5,000 people here. Everyone is coming here to support us after they finish work, or finish class."
Tweets from the scene were displayed on a dedicated Twitter "wall" (http://stopxrl.tweetwally.com/).
User makechoice tweeted: "Time to off work. Time to visit Central. Stop hong kong government wasting our money. We need cheaper better rail."
Critics object to the location of the railway line, which will displace villagers, and say the line is too expensive.
"What is this 70 percent consensus?...dissenting opinions have remained totally unheard!" tweeted user superexcuser.
The railway is part of long-term government plans to integrate the former British colony further into China's growing high-speed rail network by 2015, cutting travel times and boosting economic growth.
Police officers had already arrived at the scene as protesters started arriving outside the territory's legislature.
"One inch railway one billon," tweeted user gtea31. "CCP HKSAR stop robbing us," he wrote in a reference to the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.
Hong Kong's traditional freedoms of speech and association were guaranteed in ther territory's mini-constitution when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, although Beijing has insisted that plans to move to universal suffrage be put on hold, citing political immaturity.
The protests, which come just days after a huge pro-democracy rally ended in clashes with police outside's Beijing's representative office, are likely to prove embarrassing for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who has reportedly been warned by Beijing to do a better job of handling dissent in Hong Kong.
The protests garnered online support from activists and observers across the internal border in mainland China, however.
"Work hard, everyone," tweeted prominent online activist Ran Yunfei. "I urge you all to Tweet about this, even if it doesn't directly affect your personal interests."
One user identified as ryancanton said they enjoyed the sight of protests in Hong Kong . "Here on the mainland, we can get put in jail just for writing articles. Hong Kong is the last bastion of freedom in Chinese territory," ryancanton wrote.
Legislators were scheduled to debate funding for the railway project Friday evening, with more than half of them reportedly supporting the project, local media said.
If approved, the plan will include a massive underground terminal building complex in West Kowloon, commercial properties, luxury homes and cultural facilities.
The government says it will save 40 million travel hours annually, and generate a return of nine percent annually on the initial investment, in terms of economic growth.
Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and RFA's Cantonese service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Additional reporting and translation by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.