December 17, 2014
Thousands protest for democracy in Hong Kong
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters marched in Hong Kong on Tuesday, many calling for the city's leader to be sacked, in what could turn out to be the biggest and most passionate challenge to Chinese Communist Party rule in more than a decade.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his government would do its "utmost" to move towards universal suffrage and stressed the need for stability after nearly 800,000 people voted for full democracy in an unofficial referendum.
Tempers flared amid Hong Kong's heat, fierce humidity and heavy downpours as thousands found themselves trapped near the start of the march in the shopping hub of Causeway Bay even as the head of the march reached the Central business district.Police dragged away several protesters as crowds pushed against barricades and officers later criticised organisers of the usually peaceful annual procession, warning that legal action may follow after they ignored instructions to speed up.
Activists from the League of Social Democrats burned a copy of a "white paper" released by Beijing last month that reasserted its authority over the former British colony. The group also burned a portrait of Leung.Security was tight with tension running high among activists after the referendum highlighted the deep divide in the city of more than seven million people. Aerial shots showed key arteries packed with marchers.
Roads were closed off around Victoria Park, a small, green oasis named after the former British queen, where the rally started as demonstrators marched to Central surrounded by police.
People were still leaving the park as the first protesters reached Central after four hours' marching.
Organisers of the annual July 1 rally, marking the day the territory returned to China in 1997, were expecting the largest turnout since 2003, when half a million people demonstrated against proposed anti-subversion laws which were later scrapped.
Tung Chee-hwa, the city's leader at the time, stepped down in March 2005, nearly two years before completing his second five-year term.
Pro-democracy groups are demanding greater democracy in elections for the city's leader, or chief executive, in 2017.
Chinese authorities are keen to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates make it on to the ballot. Democracy activists want the nomination process to be open to everyone.
Hong Kong returned to China with wide-ranging autonomy under the formula of "one country, two systems", allowing such protests to take place. But China bristles at open dissent, especially over sensitive political matters such as demands for universal suffrage and the annual June 4 vigil in Hong Kong remembering China's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989.
Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao urged a visiting Hong Kong youth group today to make sure young people "staunchly uphold "one country, two systems" and "pass on the fine tradition of patriotism and loving Hong Kong", China's Xinhua news agency reported.
Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong went further. "We are firmly against the radical and illegal activities launched by very few people, because we all have responsibilities to defend the bottom line of law which Hong Kong people cherish," office head Zhang Xiaoming said in apparent reference to the referendum and planned protests.
"Central government firmly supports the universal suffrage in Hong Kong, and its sincerity and determination is unswerving. This kind of sincerity and determination won't have any change or shake because of the so-called referendum or the scale of the march."