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Thousands rally for democracy in Hong Kong

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong marched in a rally Sunday demanding democracy and a timetable for the right to vote.
Protesters raise banners calling for democracy and universal suffrage as tens of thousands of people march in Hong Kong on Sunday.Paul Hilton / EPA via Sipa Press
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong marched in a rally Sunday demanding democracy and a timetable for the right to vote.

It is the type of rally that is certain to rattle Beijing and embarrass Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who has refused to budge on his election reform proposals or offer a timetable on when the former British colony will move closer to one-man, one-vote.

One of Hong Kong’s main thoroughfares was closed as it filled with pro-democracy demonstrators, who marched peacefully from Victoria Park past towering skyscrapers to government offices in the heart of the city.

Democratic elections were promised when China took control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997. Beijing, however, has been unwilling to let the territory decide for itself when democratic reforms can take place.

Hong Kong residents do not get to vote on their leader. Hong Kong's chief executive is anointed by Beijing and picked by a China-backed committee of 800 electors. Only half of the members of its 60-seat legislature are directly elected.

Tough spot for Tsang
The Tsang administration's reform plan would double the size of the chief executive selection committee and add 10 seats to the legislative council, five of which would be directly elected.

"Donald Tsang is a good leader, but he's only elected by 800 people, which means he only has to please them," said Andrew Wong, 40, who works for an export business. "I've brought my five-year-old daughter here to teach her what democracy is."

A government spokeswoman declined to comment on the march and demands of organizers.

The last pro-democracy rally was on July 1, 2003 when more than 500,000 people turned out to protest a Beijing-backed anti-subversion law. The local government shelved the idea and Hong Kong’s chief executive at the time, Tung Chee Hwa, later resigned.

Sunday’s pro-democracy rally puts Tsang in a tough spot of trying to please his political masters in Beijing and a local population growing impatient for the right to vote.

Walking among banners that read “You want a clown or a chief executive?” and “Oppose bird-cage political reform”, Paul Tsang, 83, said Hong Kong lacked direction without a plan for democracy.

“Early in the morning, you wake up with a schedule, to eat breakfast and do things during the day,” the retired army officer said. “It’s ridiculous to do something without a schedule.”

Anson Chan, who was Tung’s powerful head of the civil service for four years after he took over from British governor Chris Patten in 1997, joined a pro-democracy march for the first time.

“I just feel there are moments in one’s life when you have to stand up and be counted,” she told reporters.