Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The July 1 Great March for democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, which was attended by more than 500 thousand people, ended this morning with more than 500 arrests. This is confirmed by the police of the Territory after a series of overnight raids: a small group of demonstrators who had decided to carry out a sit-in protest outside the local government offices were targeted. Those arrested included great champions of Hong Kong's freedom such as Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho Chun-yan and Leung Yiu-chung, all members of the Legislative Council, the small "parliament" in the Territory.
Although the majority of those arrested was released later in the day, mostly with a warning and on bail, in the evening a police spokesman confirmed that 129 people are still detained for "inquiries" with local officials. These include three young people found in possession of a screwdriver, deemed "a dangerous weapon", and a 21 year old woman who allegedly assaulted an officer during the march. It is not clear if the three deputies are still in custody: a source for AsiaNews in Hong Kong said they will be available for talks "in a couple of days," but did not specify the reason why.
The 1 July march traditionally sets off from Victoria Park and runs to Beijing's Liaison Office in the autonomous region. The event 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 regards to local social and political issues.
In 2003, more than 500,000 people joined the
march in order to stop a proposed security law under Article 23 of Hong Kong's
Basic Law, and demand the resignation of certain senior public officials.
Since then, turnout has declined but never dipped below 150,000. Yet, for Beijing, the march is even more worrisome than the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre because it traditionally comes with demands to change the territory along democratic lines.
Organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of various groups that include Catholic organisations, the march has sought greater independence from the mainland as well as an end to functional constituencies, which have led to a widening socioeconomic gap, in favour of the direct election of the territory's legislative council and chief executive.
This year's rally comes two days after an
unofficial vote was held among Hong Kongers on universal suffrage. Almost
800,000 people voted in what for organisers was a way to vet what people think.
The referendum was supposed to be held on 20-22 June, but the most sophisticated and powerful hacker attack according to the authorities against Occupy Central's server forced organisers to extend voting to 29 June.
Hong Kong's Bishop Emeritus Card Joseph Zen on
20 June ended an 84-km march across Hong Kong to
encourage citizens to participate in the referendum. Card John Tong, the
current bishop, also expressed his support for the right of the people to give their views on democracy.
There was even an 87 year old man, Tang, among protesters. He remained all night in front of the office of the Chief Executive CY Leung to express his disapproval: "I came because I find Hong Kong increasingly 'mainlandised' since Leung Chun-ying took office. The white paper further sidelined 'one country, two systems' and I feel Hongkongers' freedom is under threat".
But not only Beijing and the
local government are being blamed by protesters for the "turbulence"
that is shaking up the political scene
in Hong Kong, "Great Britain is
also involved, by keeping silent even though Beijing
has broken its promises made in 1997. But on the
other hand money commands, it seems: Has anyone from Britain commented on the situation?
No", said Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former
Secretary General of Hong Kong with both under
the British and the Chinese,
a Catholic and representative
of the democratic movement.
The politician, who also held the role of a member of the Legislative Council, marched all night. At the end of the demonstration she also spoke with some journalists, explained: "The whole international community should closely follow the Chinese attempts to re-interpret the Basic Law. If China chooses to move away from what it has promised, what will happen to international treaties it has with all the other nations of the world? ".