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Honk kong stages massive march

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Hong Kong Stages Massive Democracy March
Jul 1, 5:46 PM (ET)

HONG KONG (AP) - Angered by Beijing's decision ruling out full democracy in Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of people marched Thursday to demand the right to choose their leader.

"We don't want to be subservient to the central government," said Ben Kwok, a 40-year-old factory owner, as the crowd clogged streets and turned much of downtown Hong Kong into a sprawling but peaceful protest zone.

Organizers claimed 530,000 people had marched - a turnout that would put the rally on par with one that jolted the Chinese and Hong Kong governments exactly a year earlier. Police offered a lower estimate, saying about 200,000 people were there by midway through the five-hour demonstration.

Numbers aside, Hong Kong's people made it clear they are unhappy with the way they have been governed in the seven years since Britain returned this former colony to China, and they want to make changes on their own.

Worried about the march, China ruled in April that Hong Kong citizens cannot directly choose their next leader in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008. Having laid down the law, Beijing then sought to make nice with several conciliatory gestures - including sending a religious relic, one of Buddha's fingers, to the territory for a temporary display a month ago.

But the demonstrators are sticking with their demands, even though political experts see little chance China will change its mind.

"Why do we say it's impossible when politics is the achievement of the impossible?" asked Lee Cheuk-yan, a unionist and opposition lawmaker. "We feel that with such a high turnout, the Beijing government has to listen to the voice of the people of Hong Kong."

The United States said it respected the people's right to seek political reforms.

"It is up to the Hong Kong people and the government of Hong Kong to determine the pace and scope of democratization," Susan N. Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate, said by telephone.

The crowd appeared less intense Thursday than it did a year ago, when Hong Kongers protested an anti-subversion bill many viewed as a threat to civil liberties. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was shaken and withdrew the bill in an unprecedented political retreat.

Ordinary Hong Kong people, emboldened by that success, then set their sights on achieving full democracy. Tung was chosen by an 800-member committee, though Hong Kong citizens directly elect some legislators.

Rank-and-file voters will pick 30 of 60 lawmakers in September, stirring fears in Beijing that Hong Kong could end up with a legislature that will not back Tung. The other lawmakers are picked by special-interest groups that tend to side with the government.

Tung told reporters late Thursday he had listened to the people's complaints and understood their hopes for full democracy. Tung held out no prospects for quick change, however, saying any political reforms must be "gradual and orderly" as China has insisted. He did not take questions.

Marchers filled all four lanes of one major thoroughfare, peacefully chanting slogans, holding up signs and waving inflatable Tung dolls as they made their way to the fenced-off Hong Kong government headquarters.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in Beijing that her government is "resolutely opposed to foreign interference" and added that Hong Kong's political system gives its citizens "real and unprecedented democracy."

The march came on the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's handover and overshadowed official commemorations. Apparently hoping to avoid embarrassment, China did not send any ranking leaders to the ceremonies this year.

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