Tens of thousands marched in Hong Kong yesterday for the right to directly elect their leaders and to protest against a package of electoral reforms pushed by the city's chief executive and Beijing.
With organizers putting the number of protesters at quarter of a million, the march could irritate China's Communist Party leaders and embarrass Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang.
Police said 40,000 people gathered at the city's Victoria Park, but thousands more protesters wearing“Hong Kong loves democracy”stickers joined as the march snaked between skyscrapers to government offices.
A government spokeswoman declined to comment on the march and demands of organizers.
The protest evoked memories of July 2003, when an economic slump and disaffection with the then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, drew half a million people onto the streets of the former British colony.
Tsang, who took over from Tung this year, refuses to budge on his reform proposals. Critics say the package is inadequate and sets no timetable for universal suffrage, which Hong Kong's post-colonial constitution, the Basic Law, allows for.
“Donald Tsang is a good leader, but he's only elected by 800 people, which means he only has to please them,” said Andrew Wong, 40, who works for an export business. “I've brought my five-year-old daughter here to teach her what democracy is.”
Despite widespread calls for full democracy, Beijing, which regained control over Hong Kong in 1997, has been unwilling to let the territory decide for itself when this should come.
Walking among banners that read “You want a clown or a chief executive?” and “Oppose bird-cage political reform,” Paul Tsang, 83, said Hong Kong lacked direction without a plan for democracy.
The Chairman of the democratic party, Lee Wing-tat, said Tsang should respond to the high turnout by visiting Beijing in the next week to draw up a reform package that “includes a timetable element and reflects the views of the whole people.”