- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of protesters marched peacefully yesterday to push for full democracy in this former British colony, echoing a huge rally in July that threw the government into crisis.

Organizers proclaimed the latest demonstration a success and said it showed Hong Kong’s “people power” movement was very much alive.

“We have made history again,” said rally spokesman Richard Tsoi, who estimated that more than 100,000 people had taken part in the march from an urban park to the government headquarters.

Police said as many as 37,000 people were at the park when the rally started but that the figure was probably higher because more were involved in other stages of the protest.

Many of those who turned out also had taken part in the July 1 rally, when about 500,000 people marched against a Beijing-backed antisubversion bill that they called a curb on freedom.

“Fighting for democracy is something we need to keep at,” said student Franky Wong, 19.

The July 1 march threw Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa’s government into the biggest crisis since Britain returned this former colony to China in 1997. Mr. Tung was forced to back down and eventually withdrew the bill.

But many of the demonstrators still complained that Mr. Tung hasn’t listened to public demands for quicker political reforms, and they renewed calls for his resignation.

“Hong Kong will only have hope if Tung resigns,” said Murphy Chu, a 17-year-old student.

During local council elections in November, disgruntled voters turned out in record numbers and handed the territory’s top pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, a stunning defeat for its unfailing support for Mr. Tung.

Many of yesterday’s protesters accused Mr. Tung of ignoring their demands by appointing 102 councilors to the District Councils last week to undermine the election results.

The unpopular Mr. Tung was picked by an 800-member elite committee consisting of pro-Beijing and big-business interests.

Although Hong Kong residents enjoy Western-style freedoms unheard of on the mainland, they still have no say in choosing their political leader under Chinese rule.

Citizens were allowed to choose only 24 of Hong Kong’s 60 sitting lawmakers in the last election, with the rest filled by special-interest groups and the committee that picked Mr. Tung.

But they will have greater say in September’s legislative elections, when the number of directly elected seats will rise to 30.

“We’re not just sending a message to the Hong Kong government, but also the central Chinese government leaders,” said opposition lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, one of the protesters.

“If Tung fails to listen to us again, we’ll be back on the streets,” Mr. Leung said. “We must fight for democracy till the end.”

The territory’s miniconstitution sets full democracy as a goal, but provides no timetable. Beijing leaders have said only that Hong Kong must democratize gradually.

The government reiterated yesterday it would listen to the protesters and it pledged to start consultations on democratic reforms soon, but didn’t say when.

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