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Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 14:26 UK

HK march calls for more democracy

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Celebrations and protests at Hong Kong's 12th anniversary of Chinese rule

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Hong Kong to push for more democracy on the 12th anniversary of the city's transfer to Chinese rule.

Hong Kong residents cannot directly elect the territory's chief executive or half of the legislative members.

Earlier, Chief Executive Donald Tsang led celebrations to mark the resumption of Chinese rule after 156 years of British colonial control.

He said that Hong Kong had come through a "challenging year".

In sweltering heat, a column of people marched from Victoria Park to the government's headquarters.

Numbers fell short of the 100,000 anticipated by the organisers.

Police estimated the crowd at about 26,000 people as the march began, although organisers said the crowd had swelled later to 76,000.

Beijing influence?

The rally has become an annual event at the 1 July handover anniversary, organised by pro-democracy legislators and activists.

The protesters included many young people demanding "one person, one vote" and others supporting a variety of causes.

With perseverance and determination, and most importantly with the all-out support of our country, I am sure we will again prove our resilience and mettle
Donald Tsang
Hong Kong Chief Executive

The biggest contingent was calling for universal suffrage in the selection of the chief executive and legislature by 2012, says the BBC's Vaudine England in Hong Kong.

Beijing has said this will not happen before 2017 at the earliest.

A 796-member Beijing-backed election committee currently chooses the chief executive.

Half of the legislature is popularly elected, while the rest is chosen by interest groups.

Some of the protesters were worried that Beijing's representatives in Hong Kong may be exerting undue influence over the territory at the expense of its government.

Under the principle of "one country, two systems", China agreed to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and to preserve its economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover.

'Challenges'

Among the demonstrators were investors hurt in the global financial crisis who feel the government has let them down with inadequate financial regulation.

Environmental activists carried "wanted" posters, describing Mr Tsang as a "climate fugitive".

Some marchers held banners calling for action to protect the local public broadcaster, RTHK, from government reforms.

Mr Tsang presided over official celebrations in the morning that featured the flags of Hong Kong and China being simultaneously hoisted.

"Whilst the financial tsunami has impacted heavily on economies around the world, the threat of a new strain of influenza has also kept every government on high alert," he said.

"During this current set of challenges, we are confident we will be able to revitalise our economy, take good care of our people, and fight against the flu pandemic."

A parade featuring acrobats and children dressed in Chinese imperial-era costumes then walked through the streets of eastern Hong Kong.



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