Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – More than 48,000 people took part in today’s march in Hong Kong, the first large-scale rally after the Hong Kong Legislative Council rejected on 17 June a proposed political reform package, opting instead to continue the fight for true universal suffrage and a better standard of living for the city’s residents.
Today, 1 July, marks the 18th anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China. The Civil Human Rights Front, an alliance of religious, women’s, political parties and civil groups, organised the march, which set off from Victoria Park towards the Central Government Office.
Despite 30-Celsius heat, protesters marched for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, demanding the right “to build a genuine democracy for Hong Kong” and “regain the city’s future.”
This includes amending Hong Kong’s Basic Law, i.e. the autonomous region’s constitutional charter; greater protection for the rights of the disabled and minorities; and greater academic freedom. The disabled demanded more financial subsidies for adapted transport.
Before the march, hundreds of Christians came together for a jointly organised prayer rally at Victoria Park.
At the ecumenical gathering, Catholics and Protestants prayed for Hong Kong’s political development, for better living in a society characterised by wide wealth disparity, for the Church to have the courage to speak the truth, and for the rule-of-law in Hong Kong.
"We gather here not only to win an electoral system, but because we love, we love our society, we love our nation and we love all our people,” Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha told participants at the prayer rally.
For the prelate, "Under the present political system, we see suffering, social injustice, the weak who have no way out of hardship”. Indeed, “People’s livelihood and politics are closely related," he added.
The event also saw the presence of Card Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, and several Catholic and Protestant clergymen. Together, they blessed the congregation before joining the march.
Cardinal Zen criticised the chief executive’s decision not to invite Leung Kwok-hung, an activist and elected legislator popularly known as Long Hair, to the flag-raising ceremony on 1 July.
In an article he wrote yesterday, the cardinal said that pan-democrats’ votes led to the rejection of political reform. Whilst this safeguarded people’s dignity, it did not advance the cause of real suffrage.
At the same time, “I decided to join this 1 July march,” he said, because it is “a peaceful move to pursue the demand for real suffrage”.
The turnout was lower than in previous years because Hong Kongers have become politically divided over the past year’s rallies and the Umbrella Movement.
By contrast, last year’s march saw huge crowds gather as discontent surged over restrictions by Beijing on how Hong Kong could choose its next leader. On that occasion, organisers claimed a record 510,000 participants.