Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Tens of thousands of people demonstrated yesterday, first day of the year, demanding the resignation of Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's chief executive, under fire for "lying" to the public about unauthorised construction work at his home.
A total of 68,000 protesters came out in two separate rallies where they carried banners and posters depicting the chief executive as Pinocchio, a wolf or a devil that must be cooked (pictured).
Leung's critics accuse him of illegal renovation work at his house, including a road access and a cover over a parking space. A similar scandal had brought down his rival for the Hong Kong leadership Henry Tang.
However, Leung's increasingly pro-Beijing policies and failure to meet local needs are the main reasons behind the demonstrations.
Hong Kong is in fact the world's priciest place to buy a home, with prices doubling in four years. For young couples, this is a major headache.
Air pollution in the former British crown colony is another major problem, causing 3,000 premature deaths a year.
Leung has been further criticised for being a pawn in the hands of mainland China because of the attempt by the Hong Kong government to impose a 'patriotic education' course in schools that praises the People's Republic and for a repressive security law that would limit freedom of expression and association.
Yesterday's march was also meant to push demands for a direct vote to the post of chief executive and full suffrage for the people of Hong Kong, which they have never had under either the British or mainland China.
For now, China has promised to introduce universal suffrage by 2017, but it remains concerned that such a concession might lead to demands on the mainland itself.
Pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers are now planning to introduce a motion against Leung for "serious breaches" of the law, which could lead to an investigation and possibly to an impeachment motion. However, they represent only a third of seats in the territory's Legislative Council.
A pro-Leung rally was also held yesterday, bringing together more than 8,000 people dancing and waving mainland flags. However, according to Chinese online news portal The House News, participants were paid HK$ 250 from an unknown organisation to take part in the event.
Later in the evening, anti-Leung protesters clashed with police, with nine people arrested for disorderly conduct.
According to anti-Leung rallies organisers, more than 130,000 people, many Catholics, took part in the event, which was organised by the Civic Front, a coalition of Church groups, workers, women, students and political parties.
Forum spokeswoman Jackie Hung Ling-yu, a Catholic, said the protest was designed to defend Hong Kong's core values and push for one-person-one-vote to elect a new Hong Kong chief executive once Leung resigns.
Rose, a Catholic who joined the anti-Leung march, told AsiaNews that she was angered by Leung's lack of integrity and untrustworthiness over renovations at his home.
"This undermines the core values of Hong Kong, such as the rule of law, freedom and human rights, equality and respect for others. As the head of government, he should have observed the rule of law in the first place," she said.
"His close ties to Beijing also undermine Hong Kong's independence, harming its high degree of autonomy," she added.
In his Christmas message, Card John Tong also called for one-person-one-vote for the local chief executive and all the members of the territory's legislature.
During yesterday's peace Mass at the cathedral, Card Tong told the faithful in his homily that peacemakers have to respect life, marriage and family values, freedom and human rights, including religious freedom.
The prelate cited Pope Benedict XVI's 25 December message, which urged China's new leaders to respect religions and their contributions to society.
Worshippers prayed for "the troubled Church in China", hoping that Catholics under oppression would persist in their faith and that the authorities would cease to fear religion and would not use violence. They also remembered in the prayers those marginalised by Hong Kong's social development.
(Eugenia Zhang contributed to the article)