HONG KONG: Protesters took to Hong Kong’s streets Tuesday for the biggest rally in a decade, with marchers braving heat, rain and long delays to demand full democracy and oppose Chinese control over leadership elections.
At least 510,000 people took part, Johnson Yeung of rally organizer Civil Human Rights Front told a cheering crowd, while police tallied 98,600 at its peak, broadcaster RTHK said. Both estimates are the most for the annual event since 2004.
The protests came after almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum against China’s insistence that it vet candidates for the chief executive election in 2017. Three weeks ago, a policy paper was released that ratcheted tensions with its assertion that the city’s right to autonomy wasn’t inherent.
“Right now a lot of people in Hong Kong feel like they’re frogs in boiling water,” said Jessica Chan, a 20-year-old university student. “When so many people come out and take a stand, I have hope that things will change.”
Chan, from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, was among thousands of mainly young people who refused to leave Chater Road in the central financial district as the final protesters finished the march after 11 p.m. local time, vowing to stay until 8 a.m.
As of 6 a.m., hundreds of police continued to remove the remaining demonstrators.
Police will take decisive action to ensure law and order and public peace are maintained, the South China Morning Post reported before the removal of protesters started, citing Kong Man-keung, a spokesman. The force hadn’t issued a notice of no objection, or permission to gather, in relation to the planned sit-in by students, it said.
In a speech earlier in the day at a ceremony to mark the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty from U.K. rule, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the city’s leader, urged people to avoid doing anything that may undermine Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.
Allowing for public nomination of candidates, which is what the Occupy Central With Love and Peace activist group demanded in its referendum, will be against the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, the Hong Kong government reiterated Tuesday in a statement issued in response to the march.