A rally by pro-democracy groups on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule while China’s President Xi Jinping warns against attempts to challenge the power of the central government.
- 60,000 people in 3km annual march
- Protestors accuse Beijing of “fake democracy” for Hong Kong
- Xi says challenging mainland’s rule impermissible
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters marched across Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese control with a visible show of dissent.
China’s president Xi Jinping, who had been in the former British colony on a three-day visit, flew out just hours before the annual protest kicked off in Victoria Park on Saturday at about 3.30pm local time.
But organisers said they remained determined to let Beijing know how they felt after two decades of Chinese rule.
“We know he has gone back to Beijing but we still want to show that they cannot ignore our voice,” said Howard Cheng, 28, of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF).
“He came to Hong Kong but he didn’t want to hear the real voice of the Hong Kong people,” he said.
Cheng accused Beijing of offering “fake democracy” to Hong Kong’s 7.3 million residents.
Organisers said more than 60,000 people joined the 3km march, which has been held almost every year since Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.
A column of protesters surged towards Hong Kong’s financial centre, carrying flags, banners and yellow umbrellas – the symbol of 2014’s mass protests – stamped with the words: “Power to the people”.
The demonstrators and their leaders said they hoped to use the anniversary of Britain’s departure to voice their disgust at Beijing’s refusal to grant them genuine democracy and its alleged erosion of their autonomy and freedoms.
Several political scandals – including the abduction of a group of local booksellers by mainland agents – have left many convinced that Beijing is gearing up to take a harder line with those who question its rule over Hong Kong.
“We are here to tell the truth that the 20th anniversary of handover is nothing to celebrate. We still don’t have democracy. We are here to tell the world that,” Nathan Law, a local pro-democracy legislator said.
Eddie Chu, a 39-year-old environmentalist and pro-democracy politician, said the rally was “the most important chance to show the power of the people”.
“My message is: give us the power that we deserve,” Chu said.
Michelle Wang, a 58-year-old protester, had come armed with a homemade placard that read: “July 1 is no celebration”.
“One country, two systems: what a lie!” she fumed, referring to the system under which Hong Kong returned to China’s control, but with far greater freedoms than the authoritarian mainland.
“I was born in Hong Kong. I see everything changing,” Wang went on.
“Year after year things are happening. We don’t want to see so much influence from mainland China. We do not have universal suffrage.
Maybe we will never have it. That’s why we are so angry.”
Xi Jinping was long gone by the time Saturday’s protest began but he left demonstrators a clear message before he left.
He said Hong Kong must not be used as a launch pad to challenge Beijing’s authority and any questioning of China’s sovereignty in the territory “crosses a red line”.
Xi also said Hong Kong needed to do more to protect China’s national security and implement patriotic education programmes.
Both of these issues remain deeply unpopular among city residents and previous government attempts to enact security legislation and national education ignited mass protests.
His statements were a clear warning to increasingly vocal political factions calling for greater autonomy from China or even outright independence.
“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses a red line,” he said. “It is absolutely impermissible.”
About an hour before Xi’s speech, democracy protesters were attacked by pro-China demonstrators and hauled away by police as they tried to march on the daily flag-raising ceremony.
Avery Ng, the chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said activists had suffered “a whole new level of intimidation and direct violence” during Xi’s visit, designed to shield the Communist party leader from dissenting voices. “I urge the people of Hong Kong: do not give up…
Once we give up then we will for certain slowly deteriorate into what is becoming of China today,” he said.