07/02/2016, 17.17
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Tens of thousands join peaceful pro-democracy march in Hong Kong

Despite fears, the 1 July rally went off without a hitch, except for minor scuffles and three arrests. During the rally, participants highlighted the missing booksellers affair and criticised government policies. Pro-democracy activists wonder march’s effectiveness as young people turn towards more “subversive” methods.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tens of thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong for the annual 1 July protest march marking the 19th anniversary of the city’s return to China. Fears of orchestrated violence by breakaway radicals proved unfounded.

Apart from some scuffles at Government House that prompted police to use pepper spray against protesters, and the arrests of three people accused of carrying offensive weapons outside Beijing’s liaison office, the mass rally was peaceful.

The march started off at Victoria Park and ended in front of Beijing’s liaison office. Like each year since 1997, the event provided Hong Kongers with an opportunity to express their frustrations with social and political issues.

Unlike the annual rally to mark the Tiananmen Square massacre, in Beijing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demands are deemed more dangerous.

The annual march was organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, which includes a number of groups, including some Catholic organisations. Their demands include universal suffrage to elect Hong Kong’s chief executive and Legislative Council, an end to functional representation and the distortion it generates, and more policy independence from Beijing.

Organisers said that at least 110,000 people took part in the march, up from 48,000 last year. The authorities said only 20,000 people attended.

During yesterday’ march, many were motivated by the case of the missing booksellers. Government policies and management also came in for criticism.

Lam Wing-kee, the bookseller who caused a storm by detailing his eight-month detention on the mainland, was supposed to lead the march, but pulled out at the last minute citing a “serious threat” to his safety.

An ongoing discussion is taking place among intellectuals and activists about the march’s effectiveness. Increasingly, young people have been turning away, moving towards more unconventional and subversive methods. Others are so frustrated that they consider all protest against Hong Kong and mainland authorities as useless.

By contrast, Hong Kong’s chief executive marked the end of British rule by promising more economic development. Leading muted official celebrations as a mark of respect for two firefighters who were killed in an industrial building blaze last month, Mr Leung Chun-ying vowed to uphold the city’s core values.

In a statement, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the central government would support the city’s leader and continue to thoroughly implement the principles of “one country, two systems” and “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong”.

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