06/20/2013, 00.00
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Concert and discounts to undercut Hong Kong's 1 July march

Since 1997, Hong Kong residents have called for democracy and civil rights in the mainland. Backed by Beijing, the regional government has tried to limit the annual march's turnout by allowing stores to offer rock-bottom prices and organising a concert with Korean stars. The latter however appear unwilling to go for it.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - In an effort to undermine the great pro-democracy march traditionally held on 1 July, the Hong Kong government has organised a big concert at bargain prices. For the same reason, it has authorised merchants to offer huge discounts to customers. In their response, Hong Kongers have called on artists invited to the gig to boycott the concert.

The 1 July march 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, turnout 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 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.

In order to weaken the march's appeal, the government has organised the Hong Kong Dome Festival, a mega musical gig with Korean artists like K-Pop with ticket prices as low as HK$ 99 (US$ 13) instead of the usual HK$ 1,000 (US$ 130).

Although all 18.000 tickets were sold, many fans have asked would-be participants to stay away, saying that they would take part in the march with the concert tickets hanging from their neck.

"I respect and appreciate the effort given by South Koreans to demonstrate against the government when they face injustice. I do hope you can understand the current situation in Hong Kong," one fan wrote on a site. "The government wants to use your fame to side track the democracy event," said another, Fong Ka-lok.

Some musicians are in fact vetting Hong Kong fans' request in order to decide what to do.

At the same time, the decision by local merchants to go along with the government's plan to offer big discounts on 1 July has proven controversial. Still, some shop owners do not want to discourage protesters even though they will drop their prices.

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