Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Protest gatecrashes HK celebration

AFP , HONG KONG

Official celebrations to mark China's National Day got off to an uneasy start in Hong Kong yesterday as democracy activists staged noisy demonstrations at a ceremony led by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (陳建平).

Slogan-shouting protesters from the pro-democracy April Fifth action group called for an end to communist party rule of China as Tung and 700 officials and guests marked the 54th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The demonstration, repeatedly halted by police, was the latest in a series of unprecedented protests which saw 500,000 people take to the streets in July to voice opposition to proposed security laws.

Crowds of spectators, including Chinese tourists, had turned out to witness the morning ceremony on Hong Kong's Wan Chai waterfront in which Tung raised the territory's Bauhinia flower standard alongside the Chinese flag.

During the event, some 15 protesters marched at a snail's pace along steel barriers set up by police to prevent them from invading the venue.

"What about our right to demonstrate according to the UN human rights convention," shouted protest leader Leung Kwok-hung as police tried to stop demonstrators from scaling the barrier.

Leung later read a petition to Beijing, calling for an end to one-party rule and the return of power to the people.

The document was then burned to show indignation over the protesters' barring from the ceremonial venue.

Hong Kong was to later mark the day with a traditional fireworks display in a celebration that will also express renewed confidence in the wake of the SARS epidemic that ravaged the former British colony.

Dissatisfaction with government handling of the SARS outbreak helped fuel the summer protests which marked Hong Kong's deepest political crisis since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Yesterday's demonstrators were joined by members of the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign who called on China to probe the 1989 military crackdown of pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The group in its petition also called for "thorough reform" of the communist system in order to prevent human-rights abuses.

Carrying symbolic black and white streamers, the protesters also called on Beijing to release all political prisoners and explain the 1989 crackdown.

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