07/01/2013, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Four hundred thousand people march in Hong Kong for universal suffrage

At the traditional 1 July rally that commemorates the return of the former British crown colony to mainland China, protesters demand universal suffrage and true democracy "before it is too late."

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Despite the threat of a typhoon, about 400,000 people (according to organisers) marched through the streets of Hong Kong to demand real universal suffrage and democracy "before it's too late" for Hong Kong and China.

Even though the government organised a mass concert today, many of the pro-democracy protesters were young. As participants shouted 'one person, one vote' during the march, many also held up posters calling for the release of Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is in jail in mainland China for demanding democratic reforms.

The 1 July march sets off from Victoria Park and runs to Beijing's local Liaison Office. It has become a tradition after Britain handed over Hong Kong to mainland China on 1 July 1997, as pro-democracy activists began to take action to show their dissatisfaction with local social and political issues.

In 2003, more than 500,000 protestors turned out to demand the resignation of certain senior public officials and the cancellation of a proposed security bill that would have changed Article 23 of Hong Kong's Basic Law.

Over the years, the number of participants has declined but has never dipped below 150,000. Yet, for Beijing, the march is even more worrisome than the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre because it usually comes with a litany of demands to democratise the territory's political institutions.

Organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of various groups that include Catholic organisations, the march has become the venue for all those who want greater independence from the mainland as well as an end to functional constituencies, whose existence has led to a widening socioeconomic gap.

This year, protesters also called for the resignation of Hong Kong's current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, whom they accuse of being too "chummy" with Beijing" and "betraying election promises."

At present, Hong Kong's top official is chosen by a college of 1,200 electors who represent the city's functional constituencies, backed by Beijing's veto power.

During the march, one protester, James Lam, said, "I am here to fight for democracy and freedom. If Hong Kong people did not come out to fight for our freedom, we would lose it in the future."

"We can't afford to wait any longer," another protester said. "The social conflict is now deepening, and we have to resolve this conflict by having full universal suffrage to realise democracy" before 2017, the date set by the government for direct election to the post of chief executive.

"If the government respects the right of the people to protest, then these annual rallies and the Occupy Central campaign can uphold the good image of Hong Kong people's moderation," wrote Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a member of the Alliance for True Democracy, in an editorial published in the South China Morning Post. However, "The administration's refusal to release a timetable for consultations is [. . .] highly irresponsible".

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