An estimated 510,000 people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to support democracy on yesterday’s anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese sovereignty, undeterred by the sweltering heat, humidity and sporadic rainfall. In what’s been called a “repeat of the ’03 miracle”, the annual demonstration witnessed it’s largest turnout since 2003, when the SAR government attempted to push few the anti-sedition Article 23.
This year’s turnout was bolstered by the State Council’s controversial new white paper on “one country, two systems” that reminded Hongkongers that in spite of promises of universal suffrage Beijing had the final word on who could rule Hong Kong and how. The white paper also sparked the largest demonstration of legal professionals even seen locally, as nearly two thousand lawyers staged a silent protest to voice their concern over the white paper’s insistence that even judges must be obsequious to the government.
As the 2017 chief executive election and the threatened Occupy Central protest movement draws near, the territory’s residents are demanding the right to nominate and vote for whomever they wish – something anathema to Beijing, which has declared that only candidates friendly to the ruling CCP be allowed to appear on the ballot. Nearly 800,000 Hongkongers voted in an unofficial “civil referendum” held in the lead-up to the protest that asked them how candidates should be nominated by the public.
The immensity of the crowds was such that by 6:00pm, three hours after the march had begun, participants were still waiting to file out from Victoria Park. Some minor confrontations occurred on Hennessy Road as police refused to open more lanes of traffic to the surging throngs of people.
Student group Scholarism, founded by 17-year-old Joshua Wong to challenge the government’s attempts to introduce a “national education” curriculum viewed as analogous to brain-washing, vowed to stage a dress rehearsal for Occupy Central on Chater Road in Central and outside Government House until 9:00am this morning. The Chater Road contingent was forcibly cleared in the morning with police arresting close to 200 demonstrators despite their pledges to voluntarily and peacefully vacate at 8:00am. Hundreds of students and other marchers also kept watch overnight over the Chief Executive’s office hoping for an audience with CY Leung, only to be resolutely ignored.
The founder of student group Scholarism, 17-year-old Joshua Wong.