- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of people marched in Hong Kong on the first day of 2013 to press for full democracy and demand the resignation of the Beijing-backed leader of the semiautonomous region over allegations that he hid illegal renovations at his mansion.

Police said 26,000 people joined the march at its peak Tuesday while organizers said 130,000 took part.

They carried banners and chanted slogans urging the leader, Leung Chun-ying, to resign. Some held signs depicting Mr. Leung as Pinocchio or with wolflike fangs, a play on Mr. Leung’s nickname, the wolf. One demonstrator was dressed as a wolf wearing a Communist Red Guard uniform, a reference to fears over Mr. Leung’s close ties to China’s leaders. Many waved Hong Kong’s British colonial-era flag.

In a sign of the widening political divisions in the region 15 years after Britain handed control back to China, thousands of other Hong Kong residents joined a rival march held in support of Mr. Leung on the same day. Organizers of the pro-government march said 60,000 people took part, but police put the number at 8,000.

The day of protest comes half a year after Mr. Leung took office after being chosen by a 1,193-member committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. He won the job of Hong Kong’s leader, known as the chief executive, after a scandal over a huge, illegal basement brought down his rival.

But illegal structures were later discovered at Mr. Leung’s house, prompting lawmakers to accuse him of covering it up and calling for his impeachment. Demonstrators are using the controversy to push for full democracy for Hong Kong.

Mr. Leung’s popularity has plunged since he took office because of the scandal over his house and other controversies.

“He is not honest. As chief executive, he cannot convince the public that he is a leader with credibility,” said Sandy Chung, a clerk. “I don’t want Hong Kong to be led by a person without credibility.”

Another protester, designer Calvin Tse, said he was upset that he had no voice in choosing the city’s leader.

“We don’t even have a vote. He is elected by a small group of people. We cannot use our voting right to express our view no matter how his performance is,” Mr. Tse said.

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and granted Western-style civil liberties not seen on mainland China.

Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong’s leader can be directly elected by 2017. Full democracy for the legislature, where some representatives are chosen by business groups, is promised for 2020.

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