Tens of thousands of protesters yesterday joined a pro-democracy march in Hong Kong, the anniversary of the territory’s handover to China, in what organizers described as an opportunity to work out the movement’s next step.
Crowds gathered in Victoria Park in the afternoon, many carrying yellow umbrellas — a symbol of the democracy movement — before marching to the government’s offices in central Hong Kong.
“The most important thing is to express disapproval to the Hong Kong and Chinese communist government for suppressing the freedoms of Chinese people and real elections for Hong Kong people,” protester Wong Man-ying, 61, said.
“Things are quickly transforming to fit a Chinese model,” office clerk Anna Cheung added. “We need Beijing to hear our voices.”
The march’s organizers, Civil Human Rights Front, said the turnout was 48,000, lower than in previous years, after almost 12 months of rallies in the territory.
Last year’s march saw huge crowds gather as discontent surged over restrictions by Beijing on how Hong Kong would choose its next leader, and organizers said a record 510,000 attended.
“Momentum has slowed down after the veto over political reform,” Civil Human Rights Front’s Johnson Yeung (楊政賢) said, but he insisted turnout numbers this year were not important.
Instead the march was a chance to reshape the message of the democracy movement, he said, which has splintered since the end of the mass rallies in December last year.
“Right now people are asking: ‘What next?’ after the veto,” Yeung said. “We hope the march can set the political agenda and give citizens a chance to discuss how to bring the democratic movement forward.”
Political groups set up stalls and addressed the crowds on loudspeakers while protesters fanned themselves in the oppressive heat.
In a speech at a ceremony for the handover anniversary, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) criticized lawmakers who rejected the reform package, using instability in Europe to argue that other issues should now take precedence over democratic reforms.
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