Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have joined pro-democracy protests on the streets of the Chinese territory in a massive show of defiance against Beijing’s vision for the city’s political future.
Pro-democracy protests on July 1 — the anniversary of the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China — are an annual event in the territory.
But public anger over a recently published Chinese “white paper” declaring Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory, released amid a campaign by pro-democracy activists calling for universal suffrage, has brought huge crowds out onto the streets this year.
Marchers gathered in Victoria Park in the city’s center before setting out along the protest route, where they faced heavy rain showers as the day wore on.
Posters of the cover of the controversial Beijing “white paper,” which stressed that Hong Kong does not have “full autonomy” and came under Beijing’s oversight, were taped to the ground along the route for protesters to trample underfoot.
“This is our last resort. If we don’t say anything, then Hong Kong will turn into a Chinese city,” said a 50-year-old protester, who like many on the march, was not comfortable giving her full name.
A 36-year old teacher was marching with his wife and two young children. “I want them to grow up in a society in which we can freely express ourselves,” he told CNN.
“I hope that Hong Kong can be like the old days, a place where we have a chance to express our opinions and voice our needs.”
Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizers of the rally, said it was a pivotal moment for political reform in Hong Kong.
“If we want real democracy right now, then this rally is very significant,” he said.
“We can show the world and show the central government that Hong Kong people want democracy so badly and we will fight for it at all costs.”
He said organizers were hoping for a turn-out of 500,000 people.
Beyond the march, student groups were planning an illegal sit-in protest at two sites later in the evening to further press the issue.
“I may get arrested tonight. Will you all support me?” one of the student leaders, Joshua Wong of the group Scholarism, yelled to the crowd.
Lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said that the march was necessary to send a message to Beijing.
“The Hong Kong government is only a puppet of the central government,” she told CNN. “We must pressure the central government and tell them not to ignore the will of the Hong Kong people.”
‘One country, two systems’
As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong’s seven million residents are afforded greater civil liberties than those in the Mainland under the “one country, two systems” policy.
This reflects an agreement reached between China and the United Kingdom prior to the handover, which promised Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years after its return.
But there are increasing fears that those freedoms are being eroded.
The Hong Kong government has promised residents they will be able to vote for their next chief executive in 2017 elections, and called on protesters to refrain from violence.
“It is the common aspiration of the HKSAR Government and the people of Hong Kong to successfully implement universal suffrage … as scheduled and in accordance with the law, so that more than five million eligible voters could elect the next [Chief Executive] through ‘one person, one vote’ in 2017,” the government said in a statement.
The statement continued: “The HKSAR Government respects residents’ freedom and right of expression and has always encouraged the public to express their views via legal channels and in a peaceful manner. We also expect individuals holding different views will respect each other when expressing their opinions.”
“In case of any contravention of the law and breach of public order, law enforcement agencies will handle such a situation strictly in accordance with the law to ensure that law and order and public peace are maintained in Hong Kong.”
But Beijing says it will only allow candidates who “love China.”
Pro-democracy activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) recently conducted an unofficial referendum in which Hong Kongers could register a “vote” in favor of free elections for the city’s next leader.
According to organizers, more than 780,000 did so, significantly higher than the 100,000 they were initially expecting.
Beijing condemned the referendum, with state media editorials branding it an “illegal farce” and accusing activists of sowing “hatred.”
But Yeung said he believed the referendum had helped pressure leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing towards a more moderate position.
Occupy Central says that if its calls to reform electoral processes fail, then it is prepared to resort to civil disobedience. The group has floated plans to “occupy” the central business district by mustering thousands of protesters to sit and peacefully block traffic.
“We will only resort to the civil disobedience action as our last resort,” Benny Tai, a co-organiser of OCLP, told CNN recently. “Only after exhausting all the legal means and still fail to achieve our goals will we resort to civil disobedience.”
The white paper was published last month just days after 100,000 people showed up to an annual candlelit vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
CNN’s Wilfred Chan, Euan McKirdy and Pamela Boykoff contributed to this story.Source: Tim Hume and Zoe Li, CNN – Huge crowds turn out to call for democracy in Hong Kong
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