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Tens of thousands march in Hong Kong to call for democracy

  • Tens of thousands of people fill in streets during a march at an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

    Tens of thousands of people fill in streets during a march at an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

  • Protesters hold an effigy of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as they march during an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

    Protesters hold an effigy of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as they march during an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

  • Tens of thousands of people fill in streets during a march at an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
  • Protesters hold an effigy of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as they march during an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Hong Kong residents marched through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center. The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Tens of thousands of people marched for full democracy on the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, underlining the opposition to Chinese control over the election of the city’s top official.

Occupy Central With Love and Peace, an activist group, called on residents to join the rally after almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum against China’s insistence that it vet candidates for the chief executive election in 2017.

“I love Hong Kong and I’m here to fight for its future,” said Alan Ng, a 22-year-old worker at a logistics company. “The developments of the past few weeks have really worried us. Hopefully the Hong Kong and China government will see us out in full force Tuesday and realize they need to make a change.”

A white paper issued by the Chinese government June 10, saying the city’s high degree of autonomy isn’t an inherent power, has ratcheted tensions in Hong Kong. Division over that and the election issue threaten to bring about the city’s biggest political turmoil in a decade since half a million people marched against a planned anti-subversion law.

More than 300,000 people may have taken part in yesterday’s rally, with the final tally still being counted as the march continues, said Johnson Yeung of the Civil Human Rights Front, the rally’s organizer. About 92,000 people left Victoria Park where the march originated, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing the police.

Members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students said they planned to stay at Chater Road in the Central business district, parts of which is blockaded now for the rally, until 8 a.m. today. As many as 2,500 people are expected at the area, the federation said.

“We don’t want to finish the march and end there,” said Jessica Chan, a 20-year-old biology student. “We’ve spoken out against the white paper and other recent political developments but the government hasn’t listened. That’s why we want to take a stronger stand.”

Allowing for public nomination of candidates, which is what the Occupy Central referendum demands, will be against the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, the Hong Kong government reiterated yesterday in a statement.

“Politically, such a proposal will unlikely be conducive to forging consensus, and operationally, the feasibility of implementation is questionable,” the government said. “It is unlikely that such a proposal will be adopted.”

Demonstrators gathered in stifling heat at Victoria Park before starting the march at about 4 p.m. local time to the Central business district. The procession stalled when there was a sudden downpour. At parts of the route, marchers were held up because of traffic congestion, prompting some to demand the police free up more lanes for them.

The march was still in progress as of 8:30 p.m. local time, Yeung said.

Political parties including the Civic Party and Democratic Party set up booths and hung banners, while the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China, had a marching band. Some people hoisted the colonial Hong Kong flag while gathering around a statue of Queen Victoria, a reminder of Hong Kong’s colonial past.

The July 1 rally is an annual event on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese rule. Under terms agreed between the U.K. and China, Hong Kong enjoys its own freedoms and legal system until 2047 as a special administrative region, under the principle of “One Country, two Systems.”

Last year, the July 1 rally organizer said 430,000 took part to demand the government address a widening wealth gap and introduce broader democracy. The police said there were 66,000. Both figures were the highest in at least nine years.

“The Chinese government is trying to go back on their promises with the white paper, and I’m here to take a stand against that,” said Edward Ho, a 17-year-old student.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is expected to submit an electoral reform proposal to Beijing for approval, before starting a second public consultation by the end of the year. He will submit the final plan to lawmakers.

“Continuing to fully implement the Basic Law and administer Hong Kong in strict accordance with it, is the key to Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity in the long term,” Leung said in a speech yesterday.

About 87.8 percent of the voters in the referendum ended June 29 said lawmakers should reject any proposal that doesn’t meet international democracy standards.

Occupy Central has threatened mass sit-ins at the city’s financial district should the government fail to meet their demands. Such tactics will paralyze the city, drive away tourists and companies and damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial center, according to tycoons, foreign business leaders, brokers and accounting firms.

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