Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Multitude march for HK democracy

REUTERS , HONG KONG

Hundreds of thousands of people gather at Hong Kong's Victoria Park yesterday before a massive march as they demand full democracy.

PHOTO: EPA

Hundreds of thousands of people in white shirts poured onto the streets of Hong Kong yesterday to vent their frustration at Chinese rule and challenge Beijing's refusal to allow them to elect their own leaders.

Waving green and black banners and carrying umbrellas to shield them from the blazing sun, protesters chanted "Return power to the people, fight for democracy" as they streamed through the urban canyons of the shopping district to government offices in the heart of the city kilometers away.

"I am here to tell Beijing that we want democracy, we want to elect our own chief executive," said construction worker Chan Sum-kee, 54, like many others protesting for the first time.

The main organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, said two hours into the march some 350,000 people had taken part -- 50,000 above the expected turnout. The government provided no numbers.

A large turnout signaling dissatisfaction could embarrass Chinese leaders and heighten Communist Party fears about losing political control of Hong Kong.

Beijing also worries that demands for more democracy could spill over to China and undermine their one-party rule.

Pro-democracy politicians will try to wrest control of Hong Kong's top lawmaking body from pro-China supporters in legislative elections in September.

Comments yesterday suggested that many Hong Kong people were looking ahead to those polls.

A chambermaid at one of Hong Kong's top hotels along the route said she regretted not being able to join the march, and added: "Even though I can't be there today marching, I will certainly make my feelings known at the election."

Police said there were no disturbances but the intense heat took its toll, with at least one person believed to have suffered heat stroke as temperatures topped 34?C.

The demonstration, timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, gave Beijing a taste of what they fear most, a mass show of public dissent.

But leading pro-democracy activists were quick to stress that what Hong Kong people wanted was more freedom under Chinese rule, not independence.

"We are here today to fight for democracy," veteran campaigner Martin Lee (李柱銘) said. "Not a single person here wants independence."

The white T-shirts symbolized hopes that China would one day offer the city greater democracy and freedoms. Other messages were more blunt.

"Hong Kong people's demands are being raped," one placard read.

Retirees and mothers carrying young children marched alongside protest veterans, highlighting the depth of feeling in favor of direct elections and dissatisfaction with China's hand-picked Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).

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