Thousands join HK protest

July 02, 2014 - 8:31:06 am

HONG KONG:  Tens of thousands of protesters, some waving colonial-era flags and chanting anti-Beijing slogans, staged a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong yesterday that organisers say could be the largest since the city was handed back to China.

The march reflects surging discontent over Beijing’s insistence that it vet candidates before a vote in 2017 for the semi-autonomous city’s next leader.

The march comes after nearly 800,000 people voted in an informal referendum to demand an electoral mechanism that allows voters to nominate candidates.

The city’s Victoria Park, the starting point of the march that will culminate in the skyscraper-packed Central business district, was a sea of umbrellas and banners bearing slogans such as “We want real democracy” and “Civil nominations for all.”

Flanked by a heavy police presence, some protesters also sang the Cantonese version of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables.”

The chairman of the Hong Kong post office union, who marched with the protesters in sweltering and muggy weather, said the city’s government was kowtowing to Beijing’s diktat.

“This march is not for us, it’s for our children. Without universal suffrage there’s no way to monitor the government,” said Ip Kam-fu. Organisers expect more than half a million people to join the rally, which would be a record high.

Paul Yip, a statistician at Hong Kong University, said he was leading a team of 15 to independently assess the crowd size, a topic of great politically sensitivity.

July 1, a traditional day of protest in the former British colony, marks the anniversary of its handover to China in 1997 under a “One country, two systems” agreement.

That allows residents liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest. But there are heightened fears that those freedoms are being eroded.

Among other fears, there has been a series of attacks on media workers in recent months -- including the stabbing of a liberal former newspaper editor -- while pro-democracy media have complained of massive cybre-attacks.

Concerns increased in June when Beijing published a controversial “white paper” on Hong Kong’s future that was widely seen as a warning to the city not to overstep its boundaries.   AFP