HONG KONG – Hundreds of thousands of protesters, some waving British colonial-era flags and sporting Edward Snowden masks, were to march in Hong Kong later Monday to denounce the city’s leaders and demand universal suffrage on its handover anniversary.
Organizers said they expected more than 400,000 people to take part in the annual rally for democracy, which comes amid concerns in the southern Chinese city that Beijing is increasingly meddling in its local affairs.
The annual march underscores the growing gulf between Hong Kong and the mainland 16 years after the city ceased to be a British colony and returned to Beijing’s control.
Those marching planned to express their unhappiness about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has been beset by one controversy after another since taking office a year ago. The unelected Leung was handpicked by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing and pro-business elites. A widening income gap and soaring property prices will also drive the march.
“The main goal of the rally is to push through for genuine democracy and to ask for Leung to step down,” said Jackie Hung, a member of the march organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front.
“Hong Kong people have been waiting too long for universal suffrage and for building a democratic city,” said another member of the group, Andrew Shum. “Many people feel very angry.”
Approaching Tropical Storm Rumbia, however, was expected to bring adverse weather around the time the march was to take place.
Early Monday, China’s national anthem blared as the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised outside the harborside Convention Center in a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.
A small but rowdy protest took place near the ceremony, with demonstrators burning a photograph of Leung and pushing and shoving with police.
The July 1 rally comes after a survey published by Hong Kong University found that only 33 percent of the territory’s residents took pride in being a Chinese national — the lowest level since 1998.