HONG KONG – Angered by Beijing’s decision ruling out full democracy in Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of people marched Thursday to demand the right to choose their leader.
“We don’t want to be subservient to the central government,” said Ben Kwok, a 40-year-old factory owner, as the crowd clogged streets and turned much of downtown Hong Kong into a sprawling but peaceful protest zone.
Organizers claimed 530,000 people had marched – a turnout that would put the rally on par with one that jolted the Chinese and Hong Kong governments exactly a year earlier. Police offered a lower estimate, saying about 200,000 people were there by midway through the five-hour demonstration.
Numbers aside, Hong Kong’s people made it clear they are unhappy with the way they have been governed in the seven years since Great Britain returned this former colony to China, and they want to make changes on their own.
Worried about the march, China ruled in April that Hong Kong citizens cannot directly choose their next leader in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008. Having laid down the law, Beijing then sought to make nice with several conciliatory gestures – including sending a religious relic, one of Buddha’s fingers, to the territory for a temporary display a month ago.
But the demonstrators are sticking with their demands, even though political experts see little chance China will change its mind.
“Why do we say it’s impossible when politics is the achievement of the impossible?” asked Lee Cheuk-yan, a unionist and opposition lawmaker. “We feel that with such a high turnout, the Beijing government has to listen to the voice of the people of Hong Kong.”