Tens of thousands march against HK leader
By Aaron Tam, AFPHONG KONG--Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong Tuesday, calling for the city's embattled leader to quit and demanding greater democracy 15 years after it returned to Chinese rule.
January 2, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Organizers of two New Year's Day processions against Beijing-backed chief executive Leung Chun-ying claimed a combined turnout of 140,000. Police said their provisional estimate was 19,500 but the figure would be updated later.
Since taking office in July Leung's popularity ratings have tumbled and he has faced a no-confidence vote in the legislature amid a row over illegal structures at his luxury home — a politically sensitive issue in the city.
“We have to keep voicing our concerns even though the situation is getting worse,” 27-year-old university student Billy Li said as the demonstrators marched through the city to the government's harborfront headquarters.
Holding up posters of Leung portrayed as a vampire and a wolf, the protesters — some waving flags from the British colonial era — chanted “Give us universal suffrage immediately” and “Step down, Leung Chun-ying.”
Traffic at a main road in central Hong Kong was brought to a brief half as hundreds of defiant protesters from the radical People Power party staged a sit-in.
Pro-government groups who staged separate and smaller rallies claimed a total of 62,500 people. Police put the figure at 8,560.
Leung has acknowledged and apologized for the structures, which were built without planning permission. He became chief executive after his rival for the post, Henry Tang, was brought down by a row over illegal structures at his own home.
Demonstrators have used the scandal to press for universal suffrage in choosing the leader of Hong Kong.
The territory was returned to Beijing in 1997 but has a semi-autonomous status, with guarantees of civil liberties such as the right to protest which are not found in mainland China.
Leung was elected in March by a 1,200-strong committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites, amid rising anger among the city's seven million inhabitants over what many perceive to be China meddling in local affairs.
Beijing has said the city's chief executive could be directly elected in 2017 at the earliest, with the legislature following by 2020.
A survey by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Program on Monday showed those dissatisfied with the city's development rose 11 percentage points to 46 percent compared to a year ago.
A government spokesman said the authorities would listen to views expressed at the mass demonstration “in a humble manner.”