07/01/2010, 00.00
HONG KONG
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Hong Kongers take to the streets for democracy on 1 July

by Annie Lam
More than 52,000 people march in the streets of the former British territory to demand universal suffrage and a hike in the minimum wage. The Democratic Party is criticised for allowing the government reform package to pass without the abolition of functional constituencies. Christians pray “for democracy and those who fight for it”.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – At least 52,000 people took part today, 1 July, in the annual March for democracy that has become a tradition after Hong Kong’s handover in 1997. Demonstrators called for universal suffrage, and an end to functional constituencies, which elect representatives of corporate interests who are generally pro-government. Many in Hong Kong continue to oppose such constituencies despite the adoption of a government-backed reform package that preserves them. The eight votes of the Democratic Party (DP), which was originally against it, were crucial for its approval.

During the march, the DP was criticised, accused of selling out Hong Kong because its support assured the passage of the pro-Beijing government’s political reform package.

DP Chairman Albert Ho told the press that he was not worried about problems the march might create, adding that the criticism was based on “a misunderstanding.”

“I’m very disappointed with the Democratic Party, who suddenly switched to support the government proposal,” Mr Kam, a middle-aged protester, told AsiaNews. All these years I voted for them and joined every 1 July march supporting their call.”

Today marks 13th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty from British rule. The large-scale march began in 2003 when the Hong Kong government tried to introduce security legislation that would have increased police powers.

Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region allows local authorities to enact laws to protect national security. But 500,000 people marched on 1 July, 2003 and opposition to the proposed reform was so strong that the government had to back down.

Organised by Civil Human Rights Front, this year’s 1 July rally started at 3 pm in Victoria Park. The march was led by labour unions calling for a hike in the minimum wage, and Asian migrant workers calling for higher wages. Catholic and Protestant groups also met at the Park to pray an hour before the rally.

At the prayer gathering, Franciscan Fr Chan Moon-hung spoke to about 300 Christians. He reminded them of 2003 prayer gathering for solution to anti-subversion law proposed. Today, he added, people were sad about divisions among pan-democrats. He urged all those present to pray for a new dialogue and new way of colloboration, and those who fight for democracy.

Speaking to the press, Civil Human Rights Front spokesperson Li Wai-yee said that some 52,000 people took part in the rally and march. She noted that some Hong Kongers were disappointed with the adoption of the reform package and displeased with certain politicians. For that reason, they probably stayed away, thus affecting the march turnout. Last year, at least 80,000 people had taken part in the same event.

During the march, some protesters called for release of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, author of the Charter 08, who has been behind bars for the past two years for his role in launching the pro-democracy appeal.

Others demanded better protection for the rights of women and disabled people.

A group of Pakistani and Nepali youths living in Hong Kong called for an end to racial discrimination and the acceptance of immigrants in Hong Kong society.

Labour groups led the march, calling for minimum wage of HK$ 33 per hour.

Confederation of Trade Unions leader and LegCo member Lee Cheuk-yan called for broad support to back a law that would set the minimum wage. He also demanded an end to functional constituencies, which defend corporate interests and the rich.

Earlier in the day at the Flag Raising Ceremony and reception that marked 1 July, Chief Executive Donald Tsang said that the passage of the political reform package was "the best gift for Hong Kong's handover anniversary".

He also noted the passage of the political reform bill signified a solid step forward towards full democracy, adding that this achievement was the result of the collective efforts of the people of Hong Kong.

However, some Catholics told AsiaNews that they did not participate this year because they were frustrated with such political reform. One said he wanted to see how this new proposal would breathe new life to a stagnant democratisation process.

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