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Tens of thousands of people took to the streets Monday on Hong Kong's 16th handover anniversary to call for real democracy and to air grievances over a range of public issues.
The protesters also demanded the resignation of the territory's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, in office since July 1 last year.
"Leung Chun-ying, step down!" the protesters chanted as they braved rain to take part in the march. "People autonomy, universal suffrage now!"
The police put the turnout of protesters at 33,500 at the start of the march from Victoria Park.
An annual demonstration has been held since 2003 when about half a million people marched to protest against planned legislation of a national security bill, governmental incompetence over the economic slump and an infection outbreak that stunned the world.
Leung, who has faced low popularity since taking office, has been accused of lying over legal compliance of construction work on his residence and being reluctant to consult the public on political reform, which has cast doubt over Beijing's promise to give Hong Kong genuine democracy.
"Today's march is a calling for Leung to resign tomorrow. Hong Kong people absolutely deserve elections by one-person-one-vote," march organizer Civil Human Rights Front spokeswoman Jackie Hung said.
Since the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule, the Hong Kong chief executive has been elected by an electoral college that represents various sectors of society.
Beijing's core legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, has ruled that Hong Kong can elect its leader and subsequently all legislators by universal suffrage in as early as 2017 and 2020, respectively.
Beijing officials have said future chief executives must "love China and love Hong Kong," which according to democracy advocates is a newly added criteria that favors pro-Beijing candidates.
"We are telling the central government also that if we do not have genuine universal suffrage by next year, we will occupy Central," Hung said.
A movement called "Occupy Central" is being planned for July 1 next year, to leverage with Beijing by threatening to stage a rally and jam the central business district as a form of civil disobedience, if genuine democracy is not put in place by then.
"Leung's administration is worse than the former governments. He is shameless, and his senior officials are incompetent. Only when we have elections by universal suffrage will our leader be accountable to all," a 50-year-old woman surnamed Chow said.
Oscar Chan, a secondary school student, said Leung has failed to make the most of his promises.
"There is no future for China if the Chinese Communist Party sticks to one-party autocracy. Hong Kong is also suffering (from China's communist rule), universal suffrage is the only way out," Chan said.
Leung said after the march he will listen to the people's concerns and reiterated there is enough time for conducting public consultation on political reform, given that the people are "practical, calm and willing to compromise."
Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam said the government will "listen to the public's concerns carefully and take reference of the opinions in the future."
A series of celebrations, including Chinese military barracks open day, carnivals and music concerts, were also held across the territory. The pro-government organizer said as many as 225,000 people have taken part.
Copyright 2013 Kyodo News International.
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