In what is likely to be Hong Kong’s largest protest since its return to Chinese control, huge crowds pour onto the streets of the former British colony to protest against Beijing and demand greater democratic rights
(SOURCE) Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured onto the streets of Hong Kong on Tuesday to protest against Beijing as tensions between pro-democracy activists and the criticism-allergic Communist Party continued to escalate.
Carrying banners reading, “We will never surrender” and “Our home, our say,” crowds packed Hong Kong’s waterfront Victoria Park before setting off on the 2.3-mile march to its financial district at around 3.25pm.
“We want true democracy and that is why we are here,” Andrew Shum, one of the organisers, told The Telegraph as thousands of marchers streamed into the park past a statue of Queen Victoria and some of the 4,000 police officers deployed by city officials.
“In a country or city with the spirit of democracy everyone has the right to speak out.”
It was not immediately clear how many people had turned out for the march, held each year to mark anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.
However, it appeared to have drawn substantially larger crowds than a 100,000-strong vigil in the same park on June 4 in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Organisers had predicted the demonstration would attract more than 500,000 people, potentially making it the largest since Hong Kong returned to Chinese control.
Tensions over the former British colony have soared in recent weeks, with many observers now fearing physical confrontation between Chinese security forces and protest groups who threaten a wave of summer demonstrations unless their demands for expanded democratic rights are met.
Pro-democracy groups have been pushing with increasing force for the right to choose and elect candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive by 2017. More than 790,000 people took part in a “civil referendum” organised by campaigners to highlight widespread public support for those proposals.
Beijing has responded furiously, even issuing a controversial policy document last month in which it reminded opponents that Hong Kong had no option but to accept the Communist Party “comprehensive jurisdiction”.
Protesters “seem civilised and rational, but their political paranoia is about to light a fuse” in Hong Kong, an editorial in China’s state-run Global Times warned on Monday, labelling the protesters “extremists”.
Leung Chun-ying, the former colony’s pro-Beijing chief executive, urged demonstrators not to jeopardise Hong Kong’s “stability” and “prosperity”.
Those calls did nothing to deter protesters, who braved scorching heat and then rain to make their feelings felt on the streets of Hong Kong.
“It is an important time,” said Jacky Chan, an 18-year-old physics student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong who had brought with him a 10ft replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue erected in Tiananmen Square by students in 1989.
“We must stand up and use our own bodies and our own words to protest for human rights and democracy. Democracy is the most basic human right.”
Artie Lam, a 13-year-old schoolboy, said he had been moved to take part in his first march after China’s Communist leaders issued a controversial “white paper” warning Hong Kong’s citizens they enjoyed no “residual power” and must accept Beijing’s rule.