Tuesday 20 February 2018

Thousands join Hong Kong vote march

People march to support a veto of the government's electoral reform package in Hong Kong. (AP)
People march to support a veto of the government's electoral reform package in Hong Kong. (AP)

Thousands of people marched in Hong Kong today to urge politicians to vote down Beijing-backed election reforms that sparked huge street protests last year.

With a crucial vote on the southern Chinese financial hub's political future days away, pro-democracy supporters were marching to city government headquarters to rally support for a veto of the government's electoral reform package.

At issue is how residents will choose their top leader, who is currently hand-picked by a panel of Beijing-friendly elites. Under the reforms to be put before politicians from Wednesday, the government proposal would allow direct elections for the first time but also require screening of candidates by the panel.

Pro-democracy activists - who caught the world's attention last autumn by occupying parts of the city for 11 weeks to demand greater electoral freedom, turning umbrellas and the colour yellow into symbols of their movement - have blasted the proposals as "sham democracy" and called for genuine universal suffrage.

Organisers had said they expected 50,000 people to join today's rally, but the turnout appeared to be in the low thousands. People marching in the blazing afternoon heat chanted "I want genuine democracy" and "Veto fake universal suffrage", while a large yellow banner mounted on a lorry read: "The citizens against pseudo-universal suffrage campaign."

Louis Cheung, a 54-year-old writer, said: "I hope that they will bring out another proposal that can be accepted by Hong Kong people.

"It's impossible to have an election without the Hong Kong public's opinion and say Hong Kong has universal suffrage. This is impossible to accept."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Friday that the proposal was "in line with Hong Kong's current circumstances, taking into account the interests of and appeals from different social groups and sectors in Hong Kong".

Authorities are bracing for renewed tensions, with both pro-democracy and pro-establishment groups planning to rally outside the government complex. They worry that protesters may try again to occupy roads, though organisers, who hope tens of thousands will turn out for daily rallies this week, have ruled out such action.

Press Association

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